'People of the Earth' stress "natural laws'
by Ernie Atencio-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 complex.
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 issues.
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 October.
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."
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