Black Mesa mines: Native Americans demand return of their ancestors’ bones

Black Mesa mines: Native Americans demand return of their ancestors' bones | Environment | The Guardian. In 1967 the Peabody coal company came to the Navajo and Hopi reservations in northern Arizona and Utah to excavate a strip mine – but the land it leased from the tribes was on an ancient tribal burial ground. So, as required by law, it hired archeologists and for the next 17 years a dig known as the Black Mesa archeological project – the largest in North American history – unearthed more than one million artefacts, including the remains of 200 Native Americans.

Jennafer Yellowhorse, who is member of the Black Mesa Archaeological Project, provided the following response to The Guardian’s news story, “Black Mesa mines: Native Americans demand return of their ancestors’ bones.”

There are some inaccuracies to the article. But our groups have all been contributing to this article for more than a year now. So things have changed.

The first, is that Alan Downer is shown here without a very specific threat that he made to these Navajo communities, that if the Navajo don’t like the way they are handling the sacred sites they would grind them up and dump them into reclamation pits. This was at a chapter meeting that raised an outrage that was ignored by mainstream media even today in this article. It also fails to add that we have a recording of a Peabody Western Coal Company cultural review agent making the same statement threat. We have filed complaints based on Gumerman’s book who admits that the research and its results were sculpted on behalf of the client and not the culture.

2nd, that the Cultural Review has confirmed the sites dating back to 5,000 BC not 3,000 as described.

Also, the last line is completely inaccurate, there is a process for discussion of the Black Mesa Archeological Project, in the Navajo Generating Station-Kerr McKee Corporation Environmental Impact Statement, for which only 100 letters have been written opposing the mine’s abusive operations. And on the suffering of the environment, the species and the top layer removal of historic trees and plants. In fact the EIS does not even mention two new species of Navajo Ants that have been found in this region.

The first Cultural Review Meeting was closed to the public and attempts were made to shut down the meetings scheduled with the people and the Historic Preservation Office. One meeting was held at a chapter without notifying any one stakeholder in the area, without giving them information, or allowing grassroots cross exam. Even in the activists camps attempts were made to shut down the open public discussion of these issues with Navajo elders. With dark forces working to cut special deals with PWCC in order to make first round negotiations for their return to Flagstaff and Northern Arizona University rather than Black Mesa itself. Activists ponder how reburial will be achieved in Flagstaff since the Hopi Cultural Center has not improved the Hopi Economy or the lives of individual Hopi to maintain their connection to their lands, by facilitating jobs within their neighborhoods. For a long time the Hopi have been given special designation and preference for the return of these items, excluding the Pueblo, Navajo and other clans from that process. While their Tribal Government sends rangers to impound Hopi Partition Lands resident’s sheep and tear down their Sun Dance camps.

The Cultural Review after its 2nd meeting, saw the close of the EIS public comments process while individuals were threatening people in entire regions from commenting on the EIS as mining employees. To prevent sentient public from extending their voices in support of the Navajo People’s Right to their Religion which is their land, and their right to self-curate and return their own cultural property back to their family burial sites.

The Cultural Review after visiting embedded BMAP sacred sites in the mining area, found “30%” more evidence of still intact historic human activity. Dating 5000 BC to 20th Century. The Cultural Review promised they would not auto-designate one Tribe over the others in cultural affiliation. The Cultural Review Committee, trashed their first Programmatic Agreement Contract and have split it into two contracts. One specifically for Black Mesa and one for the NGS, Nevada and Utah Transmission Lines and Railway.

They also re-opened the public comment period, and have announced a 16 chapter process, for direct engagement in impacted Navajo communities to speak specifically on the sacred sites issues.

These actions fall on the heels of a recent appointment of Rita Cheng, as Regent of Northern Arizona University. Who raised many eyebrows among the Dine’h People when they heard she was from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, where the collection of 1.2 Million has been kept.

It is important to note, that Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and University of Nevada Las Vegas’s role in handling these properties has come under fire, as they are not directed in the original 1968 contracts that were made with a mining company bought by PWCC who took over their holdings. The collection at Prescott College suffered a coronary bankruptcy, a hallmark of mining counter-intelligence, in dissolving and disrupting small organizations to facilitate the taking of resources and to discredit and disable community led initiatives.

Many groups claim the same was accomplished in the International Humanities Center non profit who disappeared with funds of over 1 million of key activist organizations involved as community voices in the Office of Surface Mining Suits. Many of those suits were somehow shuffled to Sierra Club who has ignored the community groups and residents who were displaced from that process. It was those suits that included a private negotiation period with PWCC, that we now have documentation that shows efforts were made to “sell” the collection to PWCC and NAU.

NAU and Museum of Northern Arizona have come forward in the community to assure that they do not wish to cause any alarm for Navajo people and will participate in doing whatever is the decision of the Sovereign Native Tribes.

This 16 chapter process is a deal breaker and this article was sculpted in this period after coming to our groups and then breaking their accord with our original mission, which was to provide accurate information on this process. We have written the Guardian for the corrections. We have a more concise article with Navajo Times coming out today which we will post. We worked long and hard for this article, and we post it here, so that we can demonstrate the twists in propaganda on this issue.

Contact information for Jennafer Yellowhorse, Black Mesa Coal’tion,, POB 4828, Kayenta, AZ 86033, (928) 246-1635.

High Country News also did a NEWS ARTICLE on the repatriation of ancestral items and the beginning of the Black Mesa Archaeological Project, which began with Jennafer Yellowhorse.

HCN news reporter Leslie Macmillan reported, “Ten years ago, Jennafer Yellowhorse picked up an out-of-print archeology book titled A View from Black Mesa and read about a vast trove of artifacts unearthed on a lonesome plateau of Navajo land near the Four Corners. ‘Right in my backyard,’ as she says, ‘but I’d never heard of it; no one had. So I started asking questions.’

“Her questions would lead to the heart of the Southwest’s energy infrastructure and the largest archeology project ever conducted on U.S. soil.”

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