Navajo and Diné Bii Kiya

Diné Bii Kaya 

“BHP Billiton announced it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Navajo officials to sell the 33,000-acre coal mine east of Farmington to the tribe. The agreement promises to radically alter the tribe's relationship to the natural resources on its lands. Officials say it will also preserve 800 jobs at the mine and nearby Four Corners Power Plant, which is the sole user of the mine's coal. "Bottom line: This preserves the jobs," said Norman Benally, spokesman for BHP Billiton's New Mexico Coal unit. Under the agreement, BHP Billiton would continue to operate the mine until July 2016. At that point, the Navajo Nation would take over with its own company, or another company of the tribe's choosing. Mine employees and equipment would stay on with the new operator….

-From the Gallup Independent

yourdecision.jpgThe Navajo community is reeling from this proposed misallocation of resources, and we are working with the grassroots groups to develop a short-term as well as a long-term strategy for the issues, which emerge as the largest Native nation in the country prepares to literally dig-in on fossil fuels. This announcement is coupled with aging coal fired power plants facing closure (Navajo Generating Station), and the fact that there is no transition plan in this largest of our Native nations. We believe it is possible to avert the purchase of the coal strip mine, close a power plant, and create and actualize a transition strategy to renewable solar power for the Navajo nation. Based on our long and illustrious history in working at Diné Bii Kaya, we would like to continue and deepen this work in partnership with grassroots organizers in 2013 and actualize this vision.

The Navajo nation has four aging coal fired power plants and coal strip mines. The mines include the Navajo Mine (Billiton), McKinley, Kayenta, and Black Mesa mines. The latter two are operated by Peabody Coal, however (with the closure of the Mojave Generating Station) Four Corners and Navajo Generating Station, as well as Coronado remain. The Mojave Generating Station was closed down in 2005, as it did not meet standards, and the four plants on the reservation all need substantial upgrades. As an example: The Four Corners Power Plant at 2040 megawatts consists of five units which became operational between l962 and l970.

navajocoalplant.jpgThis mine is the beneficiary of the coal from the Navajo Mine. The Four Corners Power Plant is the nation’s largest source of nitrogen oxides. In the first 10 months of 2010, Four Corners plant emitted 6,690,899 tons of carbon into the air. The Diné people are heavily impacted by these coal plants. The American Lung Association estimates that 16,000 people in the region (15 percent of the population) suffer from lung disease probably caused by plant emissions. Each year the plant emits 157 million pounds of sulfur dioxide, 122 million pounds of nitrogen oxides, 8 million pounds of soot and 2,000 pounds of mercury.  Coal combustion waste from the mines supporting the Four Corners and San Juan plants has contaminated local groundwater with sulfates, leading to the death of livestock. According to one source, 70 million tons of coal waste (containing cadmium, selenium, arsenic, and lead) has been dumped in the Navajo Mine, and combined with the San Juan mine, amounts to a total of 150 million tons. This is the baseline of the problem.

The selling of the coal strip mine by BHP Billiton to the Navajo Nation is a slick one. In briefing notes prepared for us, one attorney notes:

“…As utilities and coal mining companies are fleeing from coal across the country, BHP is dumping their facility on Navajo Nation. BHP has made their business decision to leave as the coal quality at Navajo Mine is inferior and the continued operation of FCPP is at question. BHP knows that the liabilities at Navajo Mine are high. Navajo Mine has a 50 year legacy of toxicity and contamination that BHP may be transferring to Navajo Nation…."


In the past eight years, significant Diné activism, combined with allies to the National and regional environmental movement, have meant that the Navajo fossil fuels industry has been challenged deeply. This has included legal challenges to the mining and extractive industries, passage of the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act, a moratorium on uranium mining, and, most recently, the passage of the Navajo Green Jobs Act of 2010. The closure of the Black Mesa Mine as the source of the coal for the Mojave Generating Station) also was a result of environmental activism. It appears that the Navajo nation, like other tribal governments, will seek to use its sovereign status to protect the fossil fuel industry and continue exploitation. This is particularly clear in the proposed expansion of the Navajo mine, into ecologically, culturally, and archeologically sensitive areas.

What honor is doing

waterislife2.jpgHonor continue to support the grassroots organizing efforts of Diné organizations such as Diné CARE, Western Environmental Law Office. Our regional organizers are currently working to put art into action, in an innovative campaign to influence tribal politics in the coming election, and to build grassroots awareness of the need for a new economics on Navajo. We are working hard to support these organization in leveraging art and media to effect political change in their communities that remain vulnerable to an extreme energy economy.

Honor the Earth was proud to support the Black Mesa Water Coalition and allies as they took their "Water is Life" message to Phoenix, a major user of Navajo Reservation water, as part of the Estria Foundation's Water Writes project to place water-related murals in ten cities around the globe. Artists illustrated the importance of water in Arizona, where it comes from, and how it is used and misused. The story of the mural received local media attention and remains on view as a reminder for city dwellers. View start to finish photos of the project and video coverage featuring artist Jeff Slim who discusses the mural.