From: Robert Dorman <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>

For more information on this on-going human rights crisis in the United States, visit 
my web page at

  Article from, and is
reprinted below for those without web access.

                     Boulder volunteers reach out to Navajo

                   By Karen Auge
                   Denver Post Staff Writer

                Nov. 25 - BLACK MESA, ARIZ. - Louise Benally, a Navajo relocation 
resister who has a cold, stands in a circle, offering thanks.

"All the communities thank you for your support," she says, fingering a tissue. "May 
the great spirit be with you in all that you do," she tells a shivering group of about 
50 people. The day before, the group traveled from Boulder to this scraped-off spot of 
dirt on the Utah border called Gooseneck Campground.

Benally takes a Bic lighter out of her jacket pocket and tries to ignite a stalk of 
sweet grass for prayer. It takes hers and two more lighters to overcome the wind and 
searing cold and snowflakes. When the grass is finally smoking, she bows her head, and 
murmurs a prayer in her native language.

When Benally finishes, one by one, everyone walks once around the circle, shaking each 
other's hands.

Then they climb in sport utility vehicles, vans and pickups, and drive off. The ninth 
annual Traditional Support Caravan is underway.

For the next few days, 53 volunteers will test not only their strength but that of 
their shock absorbers as they travel the most remote areas of the Navajo Indian 
reservation to distribute food, hay, tools, clothes and other essentials to a few 
hundred families.

But the mission is not merely one of mercy.

Like all good Boulder activists, the caravan's organizers have married a humanitarian 
act with political, environmental and even spiritual aims.

For decades, leaders of the Navajo and Hopi tribes have argued over who has the rights 
to a rugged patch of land in a remote piece of northeastern Arizona.

Several years ago, the tribes reached agreement, officially, and much of the disputed 
land was ceded to the Hopis. Since then hundreds of Navajos have moved off the 
disputed land, some in exchange for new houses or other favors.

But others, including Benally, say they won't go. They say being asked to leave the 
land that is inexorably intertwined with their faith is religious persecution. And, 
they say, the real issue is not the land but the coal beneath it, which is coveted by 
the Peabody Coal Co.

And this isolated group of Navajo families, who cling to a traditional lifestyle, 
refuses to relocate. It is a matter, they say, not merely of soil, but of souls.

Their resistance has made them renegades, even outcasts, and for many, has made life 
harder. Those are the people the Boulder Caravan has come this Thanksgiving week to 


Year after year, the guy in charge of all this is an organic farmer from the Boulder 
County town of Hygiene.

Seven years ago, Thad Johnson heard Navajo women who had come to Boulder to explain, 
through an interpreter, why they had no intention of leaving their land. Next thing he 
knew, he was on the reservation, helping an elderly woman herd sheep for a month.

When a friend found out what he'd been up to, "He said, why don't we take a truck down 
and load it up with food. We ended up with three truck loads of food. The project grew 
out of that." This year, it has grown to 25 tons of food and produce, and two 
tractor-trailers full of hay. Before caravan volunteers left their campsite Sunday, 
Johnson divided them into four groups, and assigned each a different community as a 

Those who are caravan veterans - and who have sturdy, four-wheel drive vehicles - are 
sent to the most remote, farthest-off-road families. Some will take supplies to 
central drop-off points, where families will come to retrieve the bounty. Others will 
go door to door.

The caravan also has grown to include a core of regular volunteers, like Karl 
Scheuerman. Now that Scheuerman has moved to Pennsylvania, participating meant a 
four-day drive just to get to the Boulder rendezvous site.

He does it partly because, "It's (ticking) me off that my tax dollars are going toward 
this," he said, referring to the relocation.

Another regular, Jered Ebenreck, is originally from Maryland. Before his first caravan 
trip in 1996, he didn't know any Navajo - or Dineh, as they call themselves - and 
didn't know much about the tribe. He came because a woman he knew came. "And I was 
blown away by the language and the customs." Ebenreck, who works as a cook at Annie's 
Cafe and Bakery in Nederland, said he even though he hasn't formed lasting, one-on-one 
relationships with relocation resisters, he does get to see first hand who they're 
helping, and why their cause is important.

"If what they represent is eradicated for the sake of mining," everyone loses a piece 
of history, he said.

Every year, there are dozens of first timers. This year's crop includes the usual 
complement of CU students combining adventure and activism, environmentalists, one 
retired chemist and a software designer.

And, Myra Kay, who works on an assembly line in Boulder.

Without a tent or even a definite ride home, Kay signed on for the caravan for the 
same reason she does most things - to find spiritual growth. She chose her current job 
because "I've never worked in a factory before. And I can do my mantra." Raised by 
atheist parents, Kay is a believer in Jesus Christ, astrology, the wisdom of Tibetan 
monks, Sufism and, of course, Native American spirituality. This trip, she said, will 
be a big step on her path of awareness.

Johnson said he has success appealing to liberal groups - students, environmentalists, 
New Agers - for financial and other support for the caravan. But, he said, 
conservative farmers have embraced the mission as well.

"There is a direct link between people living off the land. There is a connection 
between two sets of people similarly being effected by global corporatization of a 
culture." Last Saturday morning, all these people gathered before dawn in a Boulder 
strip mall parking lot. Ten hours later, the group pulled into the campground where 
they spent the night, and where Benally came to meet them.


Sunday morning, Benally sniffles as the truck she is riding in pulls out of the 
caravan's campsite and moves past the stark, awesome mountains and stacked rocks of 
Southern Utah that Europeans named Monument Valley.

Benally says her people know this area by words that translate to "Moon Water."

Benally, who says nurses at the hospital where she was born gave her the Christian 
name she despises, was raised in traditional ways by a mother who spoke only Navajo 
and believed it was more important for her daughters - Benally is one of nine children 
- to learn sheep herding and weaving than math and English at the reservation high 

Still, it was that same mother who a decade ago traveled to Boulder and, through an 
interpreter, told CU students, faculty and local activists that the Peabody Coal Co., 
more than the Hopi themselves, wanted her land - the same land where her ancestors are 

The land where Benally's ancestors have lived and died for centuries is called Big 
Mountain. It is, she said, "a holy place for us. It represents the goddess of rebirth 
for all living beings."

Letting Peabody pull coal from the earth will hurt not just her family, Benally said, 
but also the people whose houses are heated by the coal - everybody. Decades ago, 
Benally's grandfather told her "The minerals of the earth control the gravity of the 
moon. When the minerals are depleted, the earth will lose its balance."

Now, it is Louise Benally, who began learning English when she was 17, who travels 
with that message. On this Sunday, she was returning home after weeks away from the 
land where she is fighting to remain. And she knew she would face criticism from 
family and neighbors who think she should stay home, work at a job and support her 
four children. Along the way, she passes the mobile homes that are scattered, usually 
miles apart, across the Navajo nation. Seeing them, she shakes her head. "Trailers for 
hogans," she said, making it clear its a tradeoff she doesn't approve of. Resisters 
like Benally not only fight Peabody and the Hopis. Increasingly, they fight their own 
nation. In 1979, a splinter group of Dineh declared their independence from their own 
tribal government - which by then had agreed to coal leases and accepted a fraction of 
the standard royalties from Peabody. The royalties amount to about $40 million a year 
for the two tribes, and Indians make up the majority of wo!
s at Peabody's two reservation mines. Peabody is the single largest coal producer in 
the country.

The families have lived with the threat of eviction for a quarter century, ever since 
Congress passed the Relocation Act of 1974.

In 1996, the Navajos and Hopis made a deal, referred to as the accommodation 
agreement, meant to resolve the dispute once and for all. But Benally and other 
relocation resisters - the government estimates their number at less than 100 
families, Benally insists it is more like 1,000 people - say it has no authority over 

Now the resisters are facing yet another deadline. They are to be off their land by 
Feb. 1. This month, the U.S. Justice Department said that despite that deadline, 
evictions are likely far off. After that deadline, Hopis technically will have 
jurisdiction over the disputed land, but a spokesman for the tribal chairman told the 
Navajo Times last week the tribe has no intention of carrying out evictions.

None of this matters to the resisters. They say they're not going anywhere, regardless.

Pulling into the rutted dirt road that is her driveway, she points to the cars 
clustered and rusting a few yards off the driveway, she explains they were left behind 
by activists who came years ago for meetings and ceremonies.

But the handpainted sign propped against a tree needs no explanation.

"Security One Checkpoint," it reads. "Absolutely NO: accommodation agreement; weapons; 
cameras; alcohol; tobacco." Beyond that sign stands the hogan Benally and her former 
husband built years ago. The building is round, with cement walls and beamed ceilings. 
A stove Benally said doesn't work stands in the middle of the single, open room. 
Beyond the stove are a couch, a bed and the space Benally has set up to work on her 

Outside, a handmade ramada creates a wide front porch, and next to that stands a 
well-used brick fireplace.

Benally lives two hours from the town of Kayenta, Ariz., and about 20 miles from any 
paved road. Like about half the residents of the Navajo reservation, she doesn't have 
a phone. She doesn't have a TV either, or a computer or a microwave - or anything that 
requires electricity, which she also doesn't have.

Apparently, she doesn't need a phone.

Sunday afternoon, half a dozen trucks and vans and trailers pulled into what Benally 
calls her "camp." Caravan volunteers were still hoisting food, bags of donated clothes 
and bushels of apples from vehicles putting them into neat stacks to be distributed to 
Big Mountain families when Benally's neighbors started arriving, ready to collect 
their share.

First came two elderly men rode up on horseback. The two tied their horses to a tree, 
chatted with Benally's brother, and hovered, yards away, watching the volunteers.

Soon another neighbor, Leta O'Daniel, a round-faced grandmotherly woman in glasses and 
a pink fleece hat backed her truck up within a few feet of the stacks of apples and 
salt licks and flour sacks.

O'Daniel approaches the Caravan volunteers swarming over Benally's yard and tells each 
that she has a warm hogan, with plenty of space. "Better than sleeping out here in the 
cold," she tells them.

As one volunteer hands O'Daniel three pairs of red fleece gloves, one of the elderly 
men complains to a caravan organizer that O'Daniel is taking more than her share. She 
doesn't have three families to provide for, he said.

"It's just her up there. She's cheating you." O'Daniel's smile never fades. "We always 
look forward to this," she said. "It makes a nice Thanksgiving for us." As one 
volunteer heaves a huge green squash into the bed of her truck, O'Daniel said, 
"Without this, we wouldn't have pumpkin pie." Benally said she has no qualms about 
taking support from those who are part of the culture she believes have damaged her 

"Thad and Jered, they do it out of goodness. There are good and bad in both cultures.

Benally doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving. She usually wears black, she says, in mourning 
for all the American Indians who died in the 300 years since those first Pilgrims and 
Indians broke bread.

But if she did, the caravan's arrival would be it.

"This is Thanksgiving and Christmas."

Copyright 1999 The Denver Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be 
published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Reprinted under the Fair Use doctrine 
of international copyright law.
           Tsonkwadiyonrat (We are ONE Spirit)

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