Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

May 2, 2012

Glenna Begay to UN Rapporteur: Peabody Coal's genocide on Black Mesa

Glenna Begay, Member

Forgotten People

P.O. Box 893

Kayenta (Navajo Nation), AZ  86033

(928) 675-8483

Consultation with The Honorable Mr. James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Tucson, AZ, April 26-27, 2012

Topic: Land and Resources. 

 Ya’ah’teeh Honorable Special Rapporteur James Anaya.  I am a traditional Diné (Navajo) elder born in Black Mesa on the Navajo Nation.  Glenna says, I do not speak read or write English and live a subsistence lifestyle herding sheep.  My family has been living here for 8 or 9 generations since before the creation of the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe and the Long Walk to Fort Sumner.

I wish to address failures of the United States to remediate conditions in the Hopi Partition Land and the former Bennett
Freeze  – given the focus in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on remedies for violations of
human rights. Our community’s land and water rights are essential to our physical, cultural and spiritual survival as a distinct

My people are suffering many effects from Peabody Coal Company’s mining operations in Black Mesa. Diné religion forbids strip mining which violates basic teachings in which the Earth is a living entity that is being harmed. When we wake up in the morning the horizon is thick with dust from overnight operation of drag lines that remove the top layers of earth to expose the coal. Blasting is frequent and frightening.  Surface water sources have been poisoned or destroyed. Sites that were the sole source of sacred and medicinal plants have been destroyed by the mine.  

I live 5 miles from Peabody’s Black Mesa mine complex.  I do not have electricity and running water, my roads are not graded.  Until recently, I suspected I was among the families that will be relocated if Peabody’s Kayenta mine permit is renewed but I have never been told and I have not been interviewed. Relocation and the threat of relocation have a huge impact on me and my family.  Relocation threatens my life and culture.

I cannot even describe how huge an impact relocation has on my life as a resister against forced relocation by the US government. There is no place to move that we can continue our traditional way of life.  My family has been here for many generations.  My grandparents are buried around the area.  I was born here and my roots are here where I live and make my offerings, prayers and conduct ceremonials.  If we move elsewhere there are people living there and a lot of harassment. Relocation for me, on HPL means moving to Sanders.  I am not moving there. Most of the people that relocated there died, became alcoholics or just moved away, abandoning their homes.

In 1997, I hosted a historic meeting with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Black Mesa was the focus of the investigation.  At this meeting, Thayer Scudder, California Institute of Technology anthropologist who has testified before Congress and is recognized by leading international anthropological organizations said, “Forced relocation in our case is among the worst cases of involuntary community resettlement he has ever seen in the world.” He also said,  “Because of the destructive impact of involuntary relocation on people who have strong religious and cultural ties to the land, this is a case of ethnic cleansing.”  Upon resignation, Federal Relocation Commissioners called relocation Genocide, comparing what happened to us to what Hitler did to the Jewish people.

Peabody has no respect for the dead.  Peabody has destroyed thousands of ancient Anasazi cliff houses, burial and sacred sites, Diné cemeteries, sacred sites that continues to this day.  They dug up Anasazi burials in my customary use area. I saw it with David Brugge, a famous anthropologist.  Many of the Anasazi burials sites were not even covered up after removal of the remains.  Their locations were marked by archeologists’ stakes in violation of our religion.  Mounds of dirt remain adjacent to the graves sifted for ceremonial objects that were taken to unknown locations.

A Kiva containing 28 Anasazi burials was destroyed and is now under tons of dirt. Many human remains were taken from the site and others were left scattered on the surface of the ground.  We don’t even know what happens to the remains they removed.  Next to the bulldozed area is a site where we make offerings, have held many ceremonies, including fire dances. 
Residents in the mining area have been jailed or threatened with jail for trying to protect their  burial and sacred sites. Other residents have watched the unearthing of graves, given only the choice whether to watch or not to watch. Roy and Alice Tso eldest son’s remains were taken to some unknown location. They wanted to know where their son’s remains were taken to.  Roy Tso was a dedicated employee that retired from Peabody Coal Company.  He died of Silicosis.  His last wish was to protect his burial and sacred sites from Peabody destruction, including a site where you can hear thunder through the hill.  This is a sacred shrine used by many of my people that was destroyed.  

The US government Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) confiscates our livestock to conduct range management. Several times they confiscated my sheep, goats and they burned off my horses flesh with a hot poker while they were in the BIA impoundment yard. The BIA installed the windmill near me before Peabody then they dismantled it.

Recently the BIA issued a press release to tell us they dismantled our well to protect public health because the water is contaminated with uranium and arsenic. We are denied our major water source.  We were never told when or how it got contaminated and we are refused access to the data.  We don’t know if it was dismantled because of contamination or harassment. 

Our corn does not grow like it used to because there is no water beneath the ground. We do not get any rain or snow. When it snows, it is not wet and there is no moisture in it. The snow just blows around like sand.  The communication between mother earth and father sky has been disrupted. Due to excessive pumping of our groundwater by Peabody to slurry coal, a Turkey rock at Monument Valley is crumbling, a portion of mountain on the south side of Kayenta shattered and fell, we have  sinkholes in Red Lake and Black Mesa, massive rock subsidence in the canyon in Black Mesa and at other locations.

It is harder now. I feel like we are still on the Long Walk. My people are having a hard time with uranium exposure and uranium workers are dying.  Now, coal miners are all dying off.  Almost all the retirees are getting diagnosed with Black Lung and Silicosis. I am opposed to mining, relocation and Peabody’s destruction of our Sacred land, female Black Mesa.

To protect endangered sacred, historic and cultural sites in and adjacent to Peabody’s mining area my family created an interactive GIS map using ARC software entitled ‘Nihikeyah/Our Land’ at  Our land is significant due to the particular sacred sites each family is connected to. Every square inch of our land is sacred. That is why relocation has such a huge impact. Why we cannot relocate. Why we cannot allow it to be desecrated. 

This map shows a small portion of our communities to support a petition to UNESCO to have Big Mountain, Black Mesa declared a World Heritage site and the Grandmother Matriarchs declared Living Human Treasures.

I pray for your intervention, protection and support of the UN Commission of Human Rights for our petition to UNESCO.


·         President Obama should fulfill his pledge made on December 16, 2010 and sign a binding declaration to show his commitment to indigenous people.

·         UN Commission on Human Rights support of our Petition to UNESCO to have Black Mesa declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and the Matriarchs declared quintessential Living Human Treasures.

Ahe’hee (Thank you) Respectfully submitted by Glenna Begay

Forgotten People, Navajo Nation

Translation by Fern Benally, Black Mesa resident

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