Uniting as One Voice to Sustain our Native Culture

 

In 1975, during my early years as an artist and craftsman, I journeyed in my handcrafted gypsy wagon—perched atop a 1963 Ford pickup—through Monument Valley near the Four Corners, in the heart of Navajo Nation. My fingers were calloused from the daily pursuit of miniature perfection in the form of inlaid pendants and boxes, precisely crafted in my mobile studio. My theme was predominantly nature, tiny landscapes held in the palm. But here, stretched before my eyes was a landscape so vast, so majestic, my heart raced in daring the concept to enter my vision. “Someday I’m gonna make a carved inlayed sculpture of Monument Valley,” I said aloud, my soul penetrated, while gazing in wonder. As I witnessed the Navajo shepherds and their small herds contrasting against the reddish, luminous backdrop, I sensed some ancient connection in my own grander journey.

Moving on the next morning, heading east from the valley, I happened upon a sight that penetrated my senses, but this time my soul was assaulted. The billowing smokestacks of the Four Corners coal-fired power plant was launching skyward a barrage of pollution I hadn’t previously encountered. And I’d grown up in Cleveland during the unregulated, industrial era when the Cuyahoga River actually caught on fire.

The contrast of my experience through Navajo Nation stayed with me for many years…also the desire to create the sculpture. Twenty years passed. In 1996 the sculpture was completed in my Santa Fe studio. By the late ‘90s my inspired career as a sculptor took a detour, and Monument Valley ended up crated in storage for next 10 years. But, as perfection would have it, this tribute to the mystical land of the Navajo, the Dine, as they call themselves, now presided in perfected display as Diné activist Anna Rondon told her compelling story at Unicopia Center conferences this past year. A major theme of the conferences has been the coal burning power plants in and around Navajo Nation, the costs to the Native population as well as the environment, the quest for clean, renewable technologies and the eventual green jobs that the Navajo people could embrace.

Anna Rondon and I also presented together this past spring at Laguna Pueblo, offering input on green building and renewable energy. Her dignity and spiritual presence brings a new meaning to the term activist. Her capacity to remain in a state of grace while greed and corruption are being thrust on her people and sacred land, reminds me that Spirit may ultimately prevail.

As I write this, I have the energetic launch from having just interviewed Anna on Unicopia Green Radio. The environmental issues facing the Navajo are paramount to an eventual confrontation with extinction. The battle is being waged both with the outside corporate influences, such as Peabody Coal, PNM, Salt River Project, uranium mining companies, etc., but also from within the Navajo leadership, who some allege, are willing to accommodate these assaults to their lands and people for money and favors. The list of issues in the social and environmental justice arena for the Navajo people is daunting. From the health and environmental effects of uranium mining, coal mining, coal-fired power plant pollution and coal ash pollution of ground water, the capacity and tenacity of Anna Rondon and other environmental and social justice freedom fighter, to withstand the seeming endless onslaught of exploitation is certainly commendable.

The journey of our Native American population since Columbus is a story about which no European should be proud. At the very core of the exploitation issue is the still present mindset that dates back over 500 years and continues to be perpetrated on indigenous peoples throughout the land. It’s called the Doctrine of Discovery, a philosophy instituted in 1493, the year following Columbus’ monumental “discovering” of America. This elitist perspective is based on the concept that indigenous people are basically not human because they are not Christians. Apparently, this doctrine continues to drive some of the federal manipulation of Navajo water. Given the Emancipation Proclamation, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement and all the cultural advances and constitutional amendments that have propelled our society, how is it that the Native culture is still held in such little regard? Wasn’t it the Navajo Code Talkers who stymied the Japanese in World War II? They’ve stood up and fought for “our” country. Perhaps, though they have often been forced to discard their culture, they’ve held on to enough superstition it to be considered different, possibly non-Christian enough to deserve a lesser fate. A far better perspective is that the time has come for more of the US population to stand up and be a voice for the equality and justice that the Native American people truly deserve.

Anna mentioned the 1970s, when growing up in Richmond, Calif. exposed her to a massive diversity of races and cultures. She hasn’t caved in to any sense of defeat, blame or being overwhelmed by the injustices. Since she alsoo mentioned the famous Sioux Medicine Man, Black Elk, I’ll leave you with one of his most insightful quotes.

The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that its center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”

 

Faren Dancer is an award-winning designer, builder, educator and activist. His UNICOPIA GREEN RADIO show, each Saturday at 4 pm on KTRC (1260AM), is simulcast at santafe.com. The archived shows are available at www.unicopia.org. Email: Faren@unicopia.org

 

 

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