Black Mesa Project Environmental Impact Study Culturally Biased
By Vernon Masayesva
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz., Sept. 10—Any Hopi, Tewa or Navajo who is knowledgeable about their traditions and worldview about humankind's relationship with nature will quickly note the conspicuous absence of that knowledge in the on-going Black Mesa Project environmental impact statement proceedings.
The Office of Surface Mining (OSM), the lead agency in the EIS process, is treating the Hopi, Tewa and Navajo worldview as if it does not exist—and even if it does, it is not science, but mythology.
Western science operates by taking things apart and analyzing the pieces. It has produced enormously important technological and medical advances. Because of this worldview, Western societies are generally able to control their environments and provide greater human comfort.
Traditional science operates by seeing the whole and studying the interaction of the parts. It has sustained Native peoples and cultures for millennia against near overwhelming odds. But, because of this worldview, traditional peoples often find themselves ill-prepared to protect their own best interests.Western science looks at the world in which we live, separates the human from the environment, and then studies the parts—the air, the water, the land, the animals—as if they had little to do with one another. The world is one in which the human is separate from the rest of the nature. The world is mechanistic and the human runs it.
Traditional science looks at the world in which we live, recognizes the essential connection of all of the parts—the air, the water, the land, the other animals, and the human—and from it develops culture and a way of being. The world is sacred and the human is its steward.
In recognition of the disadvantage under which Native America operates in this regard, the federal government recognizes a special trust responsibility with regard to the indigenous peoples of the United States. It has promised to take special care, to be sure the peoples are not cheated or taken advantage of in their dealings with the dominant culture they find so foreign. More often than not, however, the government of the United States has failed to meet even the most fundamental fiduciary and social responsibilities one legitimately expects of a trustee.Regrettably, this is now happening on Black Mesa in Northern Arizona, sacred homeland of the members of the Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation.
OSM, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and all the cooperating agencies involved in processing the Peabody application for Black Mesa Project life-of-mine permit have failed and are failing to analyze the Peabody mine plan from a trustee's point of view. Instead, they are focused on technicalities, as regulators should be.This cultural imperialism has many negative implications. It violates Hopi and Navajo religious freedom, the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and human rights in general.
For this reason alone the Black Mesa Project EIS is fundamentally flawed and must be disapproved.
Such violation must not continue. The U.S. Office of Surface Mining, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Secretary of the Interior must be called to account, must be required to enforce the spirit and the letter of law intended to protect not only our natural resources but also our religious sites, our identity and authenticity as discrete peoples within a pluralistic state, and our inalienable right to self-preservation as unique individuals and cultures.