Power (and financial) Struggle

by Paul Larmer and Jodi Peterson
High Country News
01 March 2010
Click Image to Enlarge

Despite running head-to-head with  President Obama's State of the Union speech  and  a  talk  on campus  by  Native  American  writer Leslie Marmon Silko,  our  January 27  panel discussion on energy, activism and the role of the media on the  Navajo and  Hopi Nations drew more than 100 Tucsonians. "Power Struggle," co-hosted by the University of Arizona  School of Journalism,  focused on coal mining on  Black Mesa a nd the prospects  for green alternatives, including wind and solar power,  but it ranged broadly  across issues of tribal sovereignty and identity.

Navajo Times reporter and HCN board member Marley Shebala told the audience that outside journalists covering Indian country often fail to "think Indian" when covering issues on the reservations. As a result, she said, they often accept tribal government press releases at face value, even though those governments were set up by the federal government to rubberstamp corporate exploitation of tribal resources.

Arizona Republic investigative journalist  Dennis Wagner, who joked  that he was  from the "bald, bilagaana tribe," played devil's advocate on behalf of coal mining and tribal government officials who were invited but didn't attend. "The idea that there is a unilateral way of thinking Indian scares me because it represents a kind of stereotype," he said. "If you think that Native Americans can only think that a mine on Black Mesa is bad, then you are shortchanging  Indians. Someone  like (Navajo  Tribal  Chairman) Joe Shirley can argue, ‘How am I going to provide economic development for the Diné, how am I going to provide jobs on an Indian nation with 50 percent unemployment?' I'm not justifying his position; I'm saying that he might be thinking Indian, too, when he says this."

Former Hopi Tribal Chairman  Vernon Masayesva, who now heads the Black Mesa Trust, a group fighting coal mining, said the tribes have known for centuries about the wealth underneath Black Mesa. But mining should be done at "the right time, the right way, and for the right purpose" to respect the tribe's environmental and social traditions. For the past 50 years, Masayesva said, mining has depleted and polluted groundwater, destroyed archaeological sites and failed to provide enough financial return for tribes in the form of taxes and royalties. "We are not against coal mining, but we are opposed to how it is being done."

Two days after the event, HCN's Board of Directors met to discuss the financial health of the organization. The struggling economy continues to impact our bottom line: Research Fund donations are down slightly from last year, and advertising revenue is even lower. Board members and staff pledged to push fundraising for the rest of this 40th anniversary year, setting a goal of raising $200,000 in Research Fund donations between April 1 and Oct. 1. Feel free to pitch in if the spirit moves you!



Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html