"There is no word for relocation in the Diné language" : everyday forms of refusal to colonialism(s) on Black Mesa



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There are an estimated twenty to fifty billion tons of high grade, low sulfur coal underlying the Colorado Plateau in a stretch of Arizona desert known as Black Mesa. Since the 1970s, the Navajo (Diné) community of Black Mesa has faced a tremendous battle against particularly insidious types of colonialism that continue to endure into the present day. In 1964, a conglomeration of companies known as Peabody Western Coal Company (now Peabody Energy), first signed a deal with the Navajo Nation and then the Hopi Tribe, granting the company mineral rights to strip mine the high desert plateau of "Black Mesa" seated within the 1882 boundaries of the Navajo and Hopi reservations. In 1974, the Navajo and Hopi Settlement Act made almost a million acres of shared Navajo-Hopi land in northern Arizona exclusive Hopi territory, called Hopi Partitioned Lands (HPL). Black Mesa was crisscrossed and split by barbed wire fencing designating boundaries. The Department of Justice undertook a plan to relocate more than 14,000 Navajo and 100 Hopi. Couched as an effort to resolve what was called the Navajo-Hopi land dispute, the act was actually the result of an ongoing effort to exploit mineral resources in the area. This report is a story of refusal by those who remain. In this report, I will show how the Navajo community now residing on the so-called Hopi Partitioned Lands has employed and called upon place-based relational politics, cultural values, and daily practices of refusal to endure under the harshest conditions of colonial invasions, internal and external changes and resource extraction. My interlocutors shared stories that make stark the brutality of federal Indian policies on Navajo life, and at the same time show resilience and determination in the face of colonialism. Through ethnographic narratives, I highlight the central role of sheep and shepherding as a continued practice of the everyday resistance to the colonial conditions imposed upon them. I bring together theoretical frameworks and literature that reveal how Navajo history traverses and coheres within both settler colonialism and resource colonialism. Lastly, I focus on the role that women, matrilineal kinship and specific female deities play in the continuity of their struggle.