All over North America, Indigenous women are rising. Marching, organizing and coming up with incredibly brave and creative actions on behalf of the earth, , our ancestors’ legacy and on behalf of future generations.
From Minnesota, where Winona LaDuke is organizing to stop the Sandpiper Pipeline that threatens the rice beds and lakes in Minnesota, sources of life for the Anishinaabeg people. To North Dakota, where Sing Our Rivers Red, a project led by Native Women, aims to bring awareness to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and colonial gender-based violence in the United States and Canada. And down to the Southwest where a powerful movement is rising on the Navajo Nation, my ancestral homeland.
Four sacred mountains surround the Diné (Navajo) universe. They are Mt. Huerfano, Mt. Taylor, Mt. Blanca, and the Hesperus Peaks. The Diné refer to the land within these peaks as Dinétah.
On January 6th, a group of young Diné women began a walk of cultural healing, solidarity, and prayer; they call it Nihígaal Bee Iina or Journey for our Existence. These women left Mt. Huerfano (near Farmington, NM) and walked for almost a month and over 200 miles, arriving at Mt.Taylor (near Grants, NM) on February 1st. This walk was one of four that Nihígaal Bee Iina will be doing over 2015. Ultimately these women and their supporters will walk over 1000 miles.
During this particular walk Nihígaal Bee Iina commemorated our Diné ancestors who were coerced into the Long Walk of the Navajo. In 1864, Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson and the U.S. government held 9,000 Diné men, women, and children at gunpoint and marched them 300 hundred miles from the reservation to a concentration camp known as Bosque Redondo. Ultimately, the Government closed the concentration camp due to lack of funds. Only 7,304 Diné returned to Dinétah. Nihígaal Bee Iina honors the resilience of our ancestors and also demonstrates a new return of Diné people to our motherland.
Recently I had the honor of speaking with Kim Smith, an organizer of the Walk. As Kim spoke I felt how empowered she was from this experience, with bravery and conviction she says, “as young women we are saying that we don’t have to accept that the only way to live is to give into these destructive ways, we don’t have to accept the violence towards the land or the violence towards us, we don’t have to accept the illness, and we don’t have to accept the injustice in our communities.”
This is one of the messages being shared through the walk; a message to empower women. Another message, and perhaps the message being shared is that young people, especially women, are needed on the reservation to protect it. “It’s important for young people to stay connected to the places where they are raised. A lot of kids hardly come home and because of that fracking is happening, water is given away for cheap, and people are put into HUD homes”, says Kim.
Dinétah “sits on one of the richest energy corridors in the United States, and for close to a century, we have been on the frontline of resource colonization to provide cheap energy and water to the cities in the Southwest. Since the 1920’s, our land and people have been sacrificed for energy extraction for oil, gas, uranium, and coal, which is poisoning our land, water, air, and people. Despite being at the forefront of energy extraction, our people do not see its benefits (75% of homes on the Navajo Nation are without electricity). Now our people and land are facing the onset of fracking and a proposed pipeline, which will transport crude oil through 130 miles in Dinétah in the name of “economic development“.
For women who live on the reservation or who intend to return to the reservation (like me) these new oil projects are especially daunting because of the sexual violence, sexual transmitted disease, drugs, and trafficking that accompany oil and gas booms and man camps. Not to mention the unprecedented destruction these extractions will cause to our land.
The Diné ground our philosophy in the concept of Hózhó, which means beauty, balance or harmony. The Dine world is quite out of balance and Nihígaal Bee Iina strives to restore Hózhó.
One aspect of restoring balance not just for this community but for all communities across Earth is to empower women and elevate their voice. Kim says it best, “I am honored and proud to walk side by side with these true naataanii [leaders], our women, selfless Diné women. This is a walk of healing for our land, our people, our women, our relationships, our mother, in faith to truly restore Hózhó. It’s so old it’s new. This is the medicine that is needed and only women can bring it. To see the way our communities live is sobering; fracking, toxic water spills, pollution, tank explosions across the street from an elementary school. It’s time. Our elders need this. Mother Earth needs this. The five-fingered nation needs this. It’s not just about Navajos; it’s about all people, all living things, all hands on deck. When women support each other, incredible things happen”.
On March 21 (spring equinox) Nihígaal Bee Iina will set out on their second walk. Check out this video to learn more about this project.