September 22, 2016
We have been staying with Diné elder, activist and artist Larry Emerson at his farm in Hogback, Dinétah (between Shiprock and Farmington). Over the past four days we have seen the disastrous effects of environmental abuse and racism on the Navajo Nation, as well as the resilience and resourcefulness of those who live here. We have met so many people who have so generously given us their time, but in order to do justice in a short blog post, I will focus on just two of them. However, I think the spirit and ethos of these two people is representative of all those we met.
On the 22nd - our final full day - we met with Graham Beyale and Byron Shorty from the Northern Diné Youth Committee. The grassroots organisation is about 7 years old and provides a platform for Diné youth to come together, share ideas and find ways to improve their communities.
On the 5th August 2015 - whilst attempting to add a tap to the tailing pond of the Gold King Mine, Colorado - the EPA accidentally released three million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers. At the same time the Northern Diné Youth Committee were in the process of growing a community garden. The water they needed for their crops was contaminated, and they were - of course - devastated, but they chose to salvage what they could (about 18% and not to full growth). They used water donated by the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry (the EPA sent water - failing to mention that it would be in oil tanks! The water came out yellow), and help from community members. 32 children from the local Dream Diné Charter School came to work with them. They watered the garden, picked the (limited) crops and shared a meal, all the while learning about hope and resilience - how the ‘river got sick’ but that it can get well again.
Graham reflected upon the importance of the involvement of youth in maintaining a sense of togetherness in the community as well as continuing Diné culture: “I think our culture is evolving”. In response to the project, the elder’s dialogue started to change from: “the youth should...” to “the youth did”.
Graham and Byron have worked with the Charter School to establish a garden of their own. Many of the children’s day-to-day lessons are conducted through the garden - maths, science and so on. Through hands-on experience with the garden the children learn to respect the plants that provide for them, and to continue the cycle. They learn about the idea of kinship and working relationship with all things that power life (not just people). Through gardening the children learn about so much more than the production of something that they can consume. After witnessing the effects of greed and capitalism on the Navajo Nation, the importance of this teaching is increasingly clear.
The below images are of the Dream Diné Charter School garden.