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Broken Rainbow:
A Film about the Forced Relocation of the Navajo in Northern Arizona

7 p.m., Thursday, November 14, 2002 in MIT Room 3-133

Where Does Nature Begin? Navajo Culture & Ecology in the Balance
A Presentation by Carol Snyder Halberstadt, Poet & Activist

7 p.m., Thursday, November 21, 2002 in MIT Room 3-133

It's Thanksgiving season. We bear in mind what Native Americans have experienced and what the current hopes and challenges are.

On the 14th, we watch "Broken Rainbow." From the review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat: "The forced relocation of 12,000 Navajo Indians from their lands in northeast Arizona was set in motion by the greed of energy consortiums eager to have access to the oil, gas, uranium, and coal on the sacred lands of these peoples. ... One Native American woman laments: 'It seems our future has been beaten out of us with a stick.' She's right, of course, since most of these families were never given a fair share of the huge profits gained from mining their lands." The film won numerous awards, including the American Indian Film Festival Award for Best Documentary; the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature; the Cine Golden Eagle Award; and the Grand Prize at the World Television Festival in Tokyo.

[Map prepared by Errol L. Montgomery & Associates, Inc]

On the 21st, we explore new opportunities for sustainable development in the region. Traditional Navajo culture is matrilineal & matrilocal; farming & sheep-herding in arid lands, the Navajo seek to live without destroying their environment. This way of life is endangered by those who want access to Navajo land as well as the minerals & water beneath it. Our speaker, Carol Snyder Halberstadt, is a poet & activist. Working with the traditional Navajo, she co-founded Black Mesa Weavers for Life and Land, a fair-trade non-profit cooperative that brings wool & weavings to market and re-invests in the strength of the community. Carol will tell us about the cooperative & its impact; she will read her poetry; & she will discuss what each of us can do to help sustain traditional Navajo culture in the American South-west.

This two-part event is co-sponsored with the MIT American Indian Science & Engineering Society, the MIT Women's Studies Program, and the MIT Program in Writing & Humanistic Studies.

For more information:

  • Diné bé ííná (Navajo Lifeway) is a non-profit organization of Navajo women founded in 1991 to provide leadership, economic development, & support for traditional lifeways of Navajo sheep-producers & weavers. The organization works to restore status to sheep-herding, wool-processing, & weaving; and to promote the appreciation of these pursuits in the modern world. It seeks to conserve the traditional Navajo-Churro sheep breed; to honor the central role of sheep in Navajo spirituality & daily life; & to bring together people from many cultures who love sheep, wool, & weaving.

  • An illustrated essay on the history of Navajo weaving by Ron Johnson (Humboldt State University): "[The Pueblo] had developed a … tradition of weaving on upright looms often with patterns of simple stripes … The origins of this … tradition extend back several centuries to Peru through Mexico. Among the Pueblo, men were the primary weavers, but among the Navajo women became the weavers and still are today … Also from the Pueblo, and to a lesser extent from the Spanish, the Navajo adopted sheep and horses. Traditionally Navajo women own and tend the sheep while men manage the horses. … Basic weaving techniques were already familiar to Navajo women through weaving baskets. Nevertheless, the character of patterning was different in blankets than in basketry, and it is primarily through intermarriage with the Pueblos that Navajo women learned to weave wool blankets. … The largest cache of early blankets that provides information about early weaving styles was discovered in Massacre Cave … These blanket fragments are from a massacre of defenseless women, children and elderly individuals in 1804 by a Spanish punitive expedition. … "

  • Black Mesa Weavers for Life & Land, a fair-trade non-profit co-op that brings wool & traditional Navajo weavings to market and re-invests in the economic strength of the community (the web-site includes a bibliography and offers wool & woven items for sale)

  • Cultural Survival is a Cambridge-based non-profit that "[promotes] the rights, voices, and visions of indigenous peoples." It has adopted Black Mesa Weavers as a Special Project: "Among the Diné [Navajo], sheepherding and weaving are primarily women's activities, and are important [for] cultural identity and health, as well as a primary means of economic sustenance through the generations: great-grandmothers, grandmothers, young adults, adolescents, and children are all involved. The Diné population of Black Mesa … is the most traditional part of the Navajo Nation. The heritage of caring for livestock — especially the rare and endangered churro sheep bred by and sacred to the Diné … — has been developed and maintained on Black Mesa for hundreds of years. This heritage has been [endangered] by events of the last 30 years …"

  • From an article by Stacia Spragg in the Albuquerque Tribune (September 4, 2000): "The journey to save a near-extinct sheep embodies the struggle to save a culture and pass on its traditions … 'We were real tired, and this old Navajo man kept walking around our truck, just looking at all those sheep,' Sharon recalls. 'He was in awe. He had tears in his eyes. I said, «What's wrong, grandpa? Why are you crying?» And he just said, «Dibé bi Na'ni t'i.» He was saying that these Churro were the old-time sheep, the leader of all the sheep. He thought they had disappeared forever. So I said back to him, «They're not gone, grandpa. We're bringing them back.»'"

  • In October, 2000 the Natural Resources Defense Council issued a report: "From a plateau called Black Mesa, in the arid Four Corners region of Arizona, the Peabody Coal Company mines over 1 billion gallons of pristine, potable ground-water each year, mixes it with coal to form a … slurry, and pipes it to a power station in the Mojave desert, almost 300 miles away. But … the Hopi and many of the Navajo who live there must [also] take their water, which they use for drinking and subsistence farming and for religious purposes, from the same source. According to data compiled by the Department of the Interior, Peabody's operations appear to be causing or contributing significantly [to] groundwater-related problems, with profound environmental, cultural, and religious implications for the region's tribal communities."