This Land is Your Land?
Working with Native American communities in Arizona
to preserve and promote a sustainable way of life
A presentation by Anna Bershteyn (MIT) & Kaia Dekker (MIT)
Jennifer Harbury, lawyer and activist for indigenous people
across the Hemisphere, will introduce our speakers.
7 p.m., Tuesday, November 18, 2003 in MIT Room 66-110
It's Thanksgiving season again. We bear in mind what Native Americans
have experienced and what the current hopes and challenges are.
Traditional Navajo and Hopi communities in northern Arizona
occupy only a small fraction of the land they once did. Yet
even the land they now occupy is extremely valuable to others.
Cheap coal and even cheaper water attract would-be developers
and users. Because of political pressure, what would otherwise
be a sustainable way of life is in danger of quickly becoming
Two MIT students—Anna Bershteyn and Kaia Dekker—spent
much of last summer living & working among the Dine (Navajo)
in Northern Arizona. They had two goals: to understand what
life is like among the traditional Dine; and to see what
knowledge and resources they could contribute. They took
computers and other equipment with them; they helped raise
sheep and bring Churro wool to market; they assisted in a
systematic survey of roads and terrain; and they heard
stories, and more stories, and even more stories.
Please come to find out what they learned from their Navajo
host-families; and see what the rest of us can learn from them.
NB: The summer Anna and Kaia spent in Arizona is part of our continuing
outreach and public-service effort.
It was funded by the MIT Eloranta Fellowship program and the
MIT Public Service Center. Computers and software were
donated by the MIT Libraries. And host-family arrangements
were made by Black Mesa Weavers for Life and Land. We don't
know how to thank these organizations for their help and
support—without which we could have done nothing.
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
"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."