Letter: Coal mining destroying cultural resources on Hopi land

To the editor:

President Barack Obama meeting with tribal leaders is simply grandstanding. All talk, no substance.

For the President to walk the walk, he needs to come to Orayvi, on Hopi land, the oldest continuously living community in North America.

In December of 2009, John Poleahla, an elder from the village of Sichomovi, a patriarch of the Fire-Water-Coyote clan, wrote a letter to the President, on behalf of the elders. It was hand-delivered to a staffer from the White House. The President has never responded.

Here is an excerpt from the letter:

"Dear Mr. President,

We are the living descendants of the first settlers in the Southwest. One of our Village, Oraivi, was settled around 1100 A.D. It continues to be inhabited.

This month, December, we are observing Kyaamuya, (when winter solstice ceremony is performed) a time of rest, reflection and renewal, the time for sharing ancient teachings and wisdom with the youth who gather round us. They look to us with eager eyes and listen with open hearts and minds. They know they are gathering the truest wealth for living a good life, for living in our Hopi Way.

They gather around us to learn ancient teachings about our migrations, clan histories, prophecies, and our covenant with Ma'sau (Earth Guardian) to help steward the earth.

Since time immemorial, it has been so, but, this year, more than most, reflection and renewal seem especially critical. Time has come to inform you of a lingering national disgrace occurring on Black Mesa, sacred homeland of the Hopi, Tewa and the Navajo (Diné) in Northern Arizona.

We hesitate to tell our children what now burdens our hearts, and which we are petitioning you to address. Bodies of those who told the stories and shared the wisdom before us do not rest easy. As we write these words, bulldozers and gigantic shovels are ripping through ancient graves and dislodging our ancestors from their sacred rest.

In 1970, strip mining started on Black Mesa, the heart of Hopi land. In the process of strip mining for coal, untold numbers of our ancestral villages, burial sites, rock art, and religious shrines have been and are being systematically destroyed by Peabody Western Coal Co., a subsidiary of Peabody Energy. We have no record of how many of our cultural resources have been destroyed. These archaeological sites are our living museums, our cathedral and an academy of our oral traditions.

From 1970 to the end of 2005, Peabody pumped over 45 billion gallons of pristine water to send coal slurry through a pipeline to a power plant near Los Angeles. This is enough to provide drinking water for the entire Hopi population for over 300 years. Water wells have dropped in some places by 80 feet, weakening the heartbeat of ancient aquifers that feed the springs.

We are hoping and praying that this will change under your watch. The way to a brighter world is before us if we choose it. You have already taken the right step by pledging to reduce global warming. We applaud you and support you.

The time of desecrating the graves, poisoning our waters and releasing the poisonous gases can and must come to an end. There are new technologies and new fuels available for a healthier world. It is time to create historic change and you can bring it about.

Kyaamuya, also symbolizes 'hard moon,' the heart of winter. It is the time when Father Sun reaches its darkest time before turning back to begin his journey to the 'House of the Sun.' It represents the beginning of a new day, a transition from the old to the new, death to rebirth and all the hope it entails.

So it is that a promise of rebirth, a journey to a newer and better life is in our hands.

Let there be life, let it be blessed, let it be forever."

Every day there is suffering: children dying of hunger, poisoned waters, wars, threats of nuclear war, extinctions of species, Katrina, Sandy, massive oil spills, financial crisis, global warming, destruction, tsunamis, increasing earthquakes, volcanic eruptions etc.

If mankind does not get its house in order, say our ancestors, the world will turn upside down. "Stars will rain on us."

Vernon Masayesva

Kykotsmovi, Ariz.

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