Native Americans gather to defend homelands

  • Indigenous activist at Indigenous Environmental Network gathering

    Cate Gilles photo
  More than 1,000 Native American people gathered in New Mexico to celebrate the 10th birthday of the Indigenous Environmental Network. The June gathering was held on the foothills of Mount Taylor, surrounded by the radioactive waste piles of Jackpile, the world's largest uranium strip mine. The mine was worked by Atlantic Richfield/ Anaconda in the 1970s, and reclaimed, some say inadequately, only after a fight with the Laguna Pueblo. The location was a reminder of the weekend's focus: to show native people from around the world how to keep toxic messes like this one out of their homelands.


Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (CARE), a Navajo group (HCN, 10/31/94), hosted the gathering in an isolated forest site, and cooked for the group on outdoor woodstoves. "At one lunch alone, we served 2,000 pieces of frybread," said Lori Goodman, spokeswoman for Diné CARE.


Meeting under canvas tarps, Diné and Pueblo people talked about fights with mining companies and struggles to protect sacred sites. Hand-painted signs memorialized places like Mount Graham in southern Arizona, a sacred place for the San Carlos Apache tribe, where the University of Arizona and the Vatican have built massive telescopes, and Red Butte, south of the Grand Canyon, sacred to the Havasupai, where an international mining company wants to dig for uranium.


"We have to look at the ethics of these developments from an indigenous perspective," said the network's national coordinator, Tom Goldtooth.


The indigenous network came into existence at the first CARE gathering, where participants spread the word about how to win environmental battles. Working with community-based organizers in different parts of the Navajo reservation, CARE stopped several proposed toxic dumps and forced the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to produce an environmental impact statement before approving a timber sale on reservation lands - something the agency had never done before.


"Before the (network) came in to being, people were always getting railroad-ed and intimidated," says Lori Goodman. Today, the Indigenous Environmental Network teaches tribal people the power of combining traditional values, such as respect, humility and hard work, with modern tools, such as the Internet and e-mail.


The Indigenous Environmental Network can be reached at P.O. Box 485, Bemidji, MN 56619-0485 (218/751-4967). Visit its Web site at www.alphacdc.com/ien.


Diné CARE can be reached at 10A Town Plaza, Suite 138, Durango, CO 81301 (970-259-0199).


*Cate Gilles