June 11, 2013

"Tell Them To Live Simply"

Consumer capitalism has far reaching effects, as the Hopi and Navajo
have discovered on their resource rich lands.

In the book Radical Simplicity Jim Merkel describes the forced relocation of 12,000 Dineh (Navajo) people from the area known as Big Mountain, Arizona. Their ancestral homeland was too resource rich to 'allow' the people to stay.

Unfortunately for them, their land contains some of the largest coal deposits in the US, and in the 1960s  the Peabody Coal Company was determined to get their hands on the black gold. It is estimated that there are 21 billion tons of coal, valued at $100 billion dollars lying just underground. Even worse, uranium is also found in the area.

The people were offered new land as compensation for leaving their sheep, corn, medicinal plants, and the bones of their ancestors. They were being forced to leave the land they had continuously occupied for 9,000 years. There was no word for "relocation" in their native language.

The new land offered to the people was the site of a major spill of millions of gallons of radioactive waste by United Nuclear. The 1979 disaster contaminated 68 miles of the Rio Puerco River. Relocating the Dineh (starting in 1974) was the largest forced removal of Native Americans since the 1880s.

By 1990 the Dineh that remained were desperate and under siege by rapacious resource companies. Merkel was becoming interested in sustainable living, and visited the people to see what he could learn, and how he could help.

He spoke to a woman who told him of the crazy capitalists trying to seize their land and destroy their ancient way of life.
"For seventeen years they slaughtered our sheep and put cement in our wells. If we fix our roof or fence, they drag us into court. Here, look at these papers they give us. 
Now they blast Mother Earth apart. Look at the cracks in my home. They drop a bomb on the Japanese people with uranium from our mountain. We are a peaceful people. 
They pump the aquifer to slurry coal. Now the plants are dying. Who is this Peabody Coal Company anyway? They make some marks on a piece of paper and come out here and push us around. 
This is our altar - we will never leave."
The people were forced off the land and the coal and uranium industries took over. Merkel saw what was happening as a "silent genocide".

He asked the woman he was interviewing, "What can I do to help?"

She responded by saying,

"Go back to your people and tell them to live simply. Then they wouldn't be out here digging up Mother Earth for coal and uranium." 

We can reduce the impact of the negative, and often unintended, side effects of our lifestyle choices by learning to live with less and be satisfied with an outwardly simple, but inwardly rich life. Perhaps we will find that we enjoy this way of life more than our past consumer-oriented focus.

We won't know until we try.

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