-As Native people we can't really separate our environment from us, so it's hard to call us environmentalists," says Diné CARE activist Adella Begaye. "We stress cultural values, the natural laws learned from the creator."
Diné CARE has earned a reputation as a
Navajo environmental group, and while it is a convenient label for
journalists to employ, the reality is more
Since its ad hoc inception to fight a
toxic waste incinerator in 1988, the grass-roots group has grappled
with proposed missile testing, cancer-causing powerlines, an
asbestos dump and the forcible relocation of Navajos living at Big
Mountain. It has worked with substance-abuse programs and radiation
victims, and has restored logging-trampled land. The unifying theme
is that Diné CARE is made up of local people working on local
Diné CARE also provides a voice for
traditional Navajos, says president Earl Tulley, who took time out
from his daughter's puberty rites to talk to this reporter. "We are
the mediators between the elders and the modern world, to explain
things like parts-per-million and radiation."
Diné CARE's work is not confined by the
borders of the Navajo Nation. The group co-founded the Indigenous
Environmental Network and works extensively with other tribal
groups throughout the country.
"It's not a Mickey
Mouse Club," says Tulley. Diné CARE has no formal membership
or dues. It has received a few "mini grants' from non-Native
organizations, but survives mostly on personal donations and a
strictly volunteer staff. Co-founder Leroy Jackson donated $10,000
of his own money before his death last
Tulley distances himself from the Anglo
environmental movement that typically ignores Native American
issues. "We are People of the Earth," he says. "We know the songs
of the valleys and rivers and special places."