29 December 2016

Part 2 – Black Mesa Unearthed: Mining and Its Impact on Our Water Table

In part 2 of the web series Tailor Made Media will illustrate the facts of mining and its impact on our water table. We will also report the untold story of how the Navajo and Hopi continue their fight for their water, something that was once free and plentiful.


Thanks to an impressive grassroots campaign of opposition, many of us have heard of the North Dakota Access Pipeline. But this is only one of many stories where big business and political influence force the Native Americans into a dangerous environmental and economic situation. While the Sioux and their supporters fight to protect their waterways from oil spills in North Dakota, the Navajo and Hopi tribes in the Black Mesa region of Arizona struggle after facing fifty years of turmoil on their own.

Their history with the mining industry goes back to 1966 when Hopi and Navajo tribal councils signed leases allowing for the extraction of over 21 billion tons of coal, an estimated value of over $100 billion dollars. This agreement was orchestrated by an unscrupulous Utah lawyer, and former US attorney, John Boyden. At times Boyden even represented both the coal industry and the Hopi Indians. He was methodical with his manipulation of the law and when that proved to be precarious, he introduced new laws to support his goals. His experience with the Bureau of Indian Affairs made him uniquely qualified in navigating, and puppeteering, the indigenous population’s politics. He even hired a publicist to weave a narrative about territory disputes between the Hopi and Navajo when the local natives began to protest the mine. This story gets much deeper, but in the end the Black Mesa Mine was to provide power to a new coal-burning energy grid for the Southwest, organized by twenty large energy utilities. In exchange for their mineral rights, the Indians were promised abundant wealth, and jobs. These jobs inevitably destroyed their land and the wealth never came.

The problems in Black Mesa are even more heinous than what is unfolding in North Dakota. The Navajo and Hopi have been struggling with the aftermath of a half century of strip mining on their land. They have been removed from their ancestors’ territory, and suffered from human rights abuses. The environment has been desecrated, countless archeological sites have been destroyed, and water supplies have dried up, been contaminated, or irradiated and rendered toxic.

Arsenic, uranium, and simply over pumping for mining, are problems the people of the Black Mesa face every day. These contaminants and lack of access to water disrupts, not only the Hopi and Navajo population, but their entire food chain. For some, the only safe source of water is trucked in, but it’s expensive and in short supply.

How could a story like this go untold by the national media for so long? Perhaps if Facebook and Twitter were available then, the world would have known the suffering of the Navajo and Hopi tribes of Black Mesa.

Just as the profiteers are doing their digging in the ground, it’s time that the rest of us unearth the past and present stories of resource destruction that are, so far, hidden from view.