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Ecological Destruction Doesn’t Equal Diné Sovereignty




coal-does-not-equal-sovereigntyIn 2009 Joe Shirley Jr., then president of the Navajo Nation issued a press release stating, “Unlike ever before, environmental activists and organizations are among the greatest threat to tribal sovereignty, tribal self-determination, and our quest for independence.” In order to protect coal mining and energy interests on the Navajo Nation, he stated that environmental activists were “unwelcome” on the reservation.

Shirley’s position seemed contrary to his previous work to protect Dooko’osliid, one of four sacred mountains for Diné, and ban uranium mining, all of which was accomplished because of and alongside environmentalists. But the issue was really over the Navajo Nation’s historical dependence on coal.

At the time, the Mojave Generating Station, a power plant in Nevada that was burning coal and pumping water from strip mines on Black Mesa, had been shut down for a few years and the fight over Desert Rock Energy, a massive coal fired power plant proposed in the Four Corners area, was raging on. Desert Rock was subsequently shut down thanks to community resistance brought on by Doodá Desert Rock. Shirley’s proclamation was a clear demonstration and commitment that the Navajo Nation political body is accountable to coal mining and energy interests rather than the Diné.

Navajo Nation Council Speaker Lorenzo Bates recently affirmed that commitment and upped the rhetorical and political ante with his written testimony presented before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that the “war on coal is a war on the Navajo economy and our ability to act as a sovereign Nation.”
Bates stated that the coal industry is responsible for “60% of [Navajo Nation’s] General Revenues.” and that “These revenues represent our ability to act as a sovereign nation and meet our own needs.”
Days before his statement, the Navajo Transitional Energy Company (NTEC) lost a district court battle with environmental groups over attempted expansion of the Navajo Mine, which was recently purchased from BHP and feeds coal to the notoriously toxic Four Corners Power Plant. In 2012 the U.S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM) approved expansion of the mine but environmental groups including Diné Care filed suit, forcing a new environmental review that properly evaluates mercury risks to public health and the environment. The Navajo Nation is appealing the decision.

US methane emissions were documented from 2003-2009. The red spot above the Four Corners indicates the highest concentration. Image Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan

US methane emissions were documented from 2003-2009. The red spot above the Four Corners indicates the highest concentration. Image Credit:
NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan

While Navajo Nation politicians lobby and litigate for the coal industry, a 2,500-square-mile cloud of methane hovering over the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners area, is being investigated by NASA researchers who have stated, “the source is likely from established gas, coal, and coalbed methane mining and processing.” Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States and can be up to 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

There are currently more than 20,000 natural gas wells and thousands more proposed in and near the Navajo Nation in the San Juan Basin, a geological structure spanning approximately 7,500 square miles in the Four Corners. The US EPA identifies the San Juan Basin as “the most productive coalbed methane basin in North America.” In 2007 alone, corporations extracted 1.32 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from the area, making it the largest source in the United States. Halliburton, who “pioneered” hydraulic fracturing in 1947, has initiated “refracturing” of wells in the area. Fracking wastes and pollutes an extreme amount of water. A single coalbed methane well can use up to 350,000 gallons, while a single horizontal shale well can use up to 10 million gallons of water.

The San Juan Basin is also viewed as “the most prolific producer of uranium in the United States.”
Uranium is a radioactive heavy metal used as fuel in nuclear reactors and weapons production. It is estimated that 25% of all the recoverable uranium remaining in the country is on the Navajo Nation. Although uranium mining is banned on the reservation, Navajo politicians have recently sought to allow new mining in areas already contaminated by the industry’s toxic legacy. In 2013 Navajo Nation Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie proposed a resolution to undermine the ban, his efforts were shut down by Diné No Nukes, a grassroots organization “dedicated to create a Navajo Nation that is free from the dangers of radioactive contamination and nuclear proliferation.” There are more than 2,000 estimated toxic abandoned uranium mines on and around the Navajo Nation. 22 wells that provide water for more than 50,000 Diné have been closed by the Environmental Protection Agency due to high levels of radioactive contamination. The recent push for nuclear power as “clean energy” has made the region more vulnerable to new uranium mining, including an in situ leach mine (which uses a process similar to fracking) right next to Mt. Taylor, another mountain of the four Diné holy mountains.

Politicians on the Navajo Nation want us to believe that dependence on extremely polluting power plants and strip mines that have caused forced relocation of more than 20,000 Diné from Black Mesa and severe environmental degradation, is “sovereignty”. The Navajo Nation affirms its role as a domestic dependent nation that serves U.S. and corporate interests at the costs of our health and destruction of Mother Earth. This isn’t sovereignty, it’s a resource colony with a political entity established to sustain resource exploitation. According to Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company’s (NNOGC) website, “In 1923, a Navajo tribal government was established primarily for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to approve lease agreements with American oil companies, who [sic] were eager to begin oil operations on Navajo lands.” You can’t get any more explicit than that.

In representing the Navajo Nation, Bates added a halfhearted greenwashing attempt in his testimony by stating that NTEC “ … is mandated to transition our Nation into our energy future by investing no less than 10% of its profits into alternative and renewable energy development.” Even if green economics (or more clearly green capitalism) was a viable step out of this unsustainable madness, why is the Navajo Nation’s role still assumed to be one that exploits the environment to feed corporate profits and maintain unsustainable ways of life?

A green economy does not end colonial relations with resource extractive industries, it advances them. The ongoing battle to protect the sacred grounds of Oak Flat from Resolution Copper is a nearby example. The sacred site, located in Arizona on “public” lands stolen from San Carlos Apache Nation, has been privatized by Arizona politicians for copper mining even though the area had been federally protected from resource extraction since 1955. The front page of Resolution Copper’s website states, “Copper from the proposed mine will help wire a rapidly growing world and drive the new green economy, powering everything from wind turbines to electric cars.” Apache folks joined with other Indigenous Peoples are still occupying Oak Flat.

The commodification of nature will continue to position us in an unending war against Mother Earth. Sacred places, such as the San Francisco Peaks, Mt. Taylor, Grand Canyon Confluence, Mt. Graham, Oak Flat, Mt. Tenabo, Yucca Mountain, Medicine Lake, Mauna Kea, Hickory Grounds, Black Mesa,  South Mountain, Red Butte, Bear Butte, Black Hills, and many more are the front lines in the struggle for Indigenous Peoples cultural survival and vitality and are heavily targeted by these exploitative industries.

The wholesale destruction of Mother Earth and her beings for energy consumption and profit is anti-Indigenous and, therefore, anti-Indigenous sovereignty.
Bates sounds more like a coal industry lobbyist than a proponent of sovereignty when stating that our “future is dependent” on coal. In the face of global climate catastrophe, if we keep mining and burning coal, if we choose to live lives wedded to the destruction of the air we breathe, water we drink, and land we grow food from–we will have no future.

Here is a link to a my commentary and Shirley’s press statement from 2009:

Klee Benally, Indigenous Action Media

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  1. Sara Ogden

    April 19, 2015 at 2:14 AM

    I am not Native American. I am a white 68 year old great-grandmother. I grew up in the southwest, although I now live in Tennessee. I have seen first hand the suffering of the native Peoples & the destruction of their culture and their lands by the greedy, colonialist system that has exploited these beautiful people since the days of Columbus. i stand with them as they rise up to protect our earth and their sacred sites from more desecration.

  2. Christine Prat

    April 19, 2015 at 11:51 AM

Add your comments (racist, sexist, & trans/homophobic comments will not be published)


ALERT: Imminent Uranium Mining Threat at Grand Canyon – Haul No!




Underground blasting & above ground work has begun at Pinyon Plain/Canyon Mine, just miles from the Grand Canyon. 

Workers are readying to start mining uranium at the mine. According to the Forest Service, workers are blasting daily though no ore is being moved yet. Once Energy Fuels starts hauling out radioactive ore, they plan to haul 30 tons per day through Northern Arizona to the company’s processing mill 300 miles away. 

The Grand Canyon, sacred site Red Butte, precious water, and communities along the haul route are in danger! 

As all legal options have failed, we need you to join us to stand up and stop this nuclear catastrophe from permanently poisoning our communities!

Join our telegram channel to connect for actions and support:

For more info & to donate for legal defense:

Pinyon Plain/Canyon Mine Haul Route Facts:

* Total distance of 300 miles.

* 12 trucks with capacity to haul up to 30 tons of highly radioactive ore per day.

* Truck loads to be covered with thin tarps, the only shielding from uranium and only protection from environmental contamination.

* Proposed route will go through high population areas such as Valle, Williams, and Flagstaff; as well as through rural Navajo reservation communities including Cameron, Tuba City, and Kayenta; near the Hopi reservation, and finally arrive at Energy Fuel’s White Mesa Mill only three miles from the Ute Mountain Ute tribal community of White Mesa, Utah.

#haulno #stoppinyonplainmine



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The Intercept and Grist begin release of 50,000 TigerSwan spy documents




Article by Brenda Norrell, Censored News
Reprinted with permission.

April 14, 2023


The Intercept and Grist began releasing new TigerSwan spy documents in new coverage of the mercenaries hired by the Dakota Access Pipeline. They now have 50,000 TigerSwan spy documents, and another 9,000 are held up in the court battle for now. The documents reveal TigerSwan spying on Water Protectors at Standing Rock in North Dakota, Bold Iowa, and at other locations.

Reporters Alleen Brown and Naveena Sadasivam expose the new spy documents in their article, After Spying on Standing Rock, TigerSwan Shopped Anti-Protest ‘Countinsurgency’ to Other Oil Companies.

The article follows an expensive court battle by The Intercept seeking the release of the documents. The North Dakota Supreme Court ordered the release after TigerSwan was found operating without a license in North Dakota.

“The released documents provide startling new details about how TigerSwan used social media monitoring, aerial surveillance, radio eavesdropping, undercover personnel, and subscription-based records databases to build watchlists and dossiers on Indigenous activists and environmental organizations,” The Intercept writes. Read the article at The Intercept:

Paiute journalist, drone activist and filmmaker Myron Dewey was among those that TigerSwan spied on and stalked at Standing Rock 2016-2017, as revealed in the new documents that were ordered released by the court.

On Tuesday, the driver that killed Myron Dewey on an isolated road near his family’s home in Yomba, Nevada, entered a surprise plea bargain deal that was cut with a new prosecutor assigned to the case in Nye County, Nevada.  John Walsh pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of vehicular manslaughter.

This TigerSwan spy document, showing TigerSwan stalking Myron Dewey and Prolific the Rapper at Standing Rock on Dec. 17, 2016, is from the new documents at The Intercept. Document link:

Below: From the TigerSwan spy files just released: The power of the global movement, with its heart in Standing Rock.

Below: The first flood of documents show how rattled DAPL was over the involvement of celebrities, the Standing Rock Chairman at the United Nations, Bernie Sanders, the Palestinian flag flying, and big orgs. The doc is from a pitch that TigerSwan made for more work, hustling another pipeline to spy on resistance.

Above: TigerSwan surveillance used drones and helicopters.

Above: TigerSwan spy file at Bold Iowa. The mercenaries hired by the Dakota Access Pipeline called Bold Iowa Water Protectors “belligerents.” Document link:

TigerSwan spied on, and stalked the media, including Paiute journalist Myron Dewey, Amy Goodman at Democracy Now, and myself, publisher of Censored News, as revealed in the newly released documents by The Intercept and Grist. TigerSwan used its surveillance on the media in its pitches for more spy work to other oil and pipeline companies.

TigerSwan turned its surveillance at Standing Rock into a potential money maker, using it for powerpoints in its pitches to other oil and pipeline companies for spy work.


TigerSwan even stalked the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, in its high-stakes spying for dollars.

TigerSwan’s Opposition Model, shown below, was used as a potential maker in PowerPoints to other oil and pipeline companies.

The Intercept described the battle for these documents.

“A discovery request filed as part of the case forced thousands of new internal TigerSwan documents into the public record. Energy Transfer’s lawyers fought for nearly two years to keep the documents secret, until North Dakota’s Supreme Court ruled in 2022 that the material falls under the state’s open records statute,” The Intercept said.

“Because an arrangement between North Dakota and Energy Transfer allows the fossil fuel company to weigh in on which documents should be redacted, the state has yet to release over 9,000 disputed pages containing material that Energy Transfer is, for now at least, fighting to keep out of the public eye.”

TigerSwan spy documents on Water Protectors

Note: The documents show that TigerSwan spied on Censored News, as shown in today’s article at The Intercept.

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Indigenous Action Podcast Ep. 9: Against Colonial Logics: Rethinking Resistance to Resource Extraction




Ep. 9: Against Colonial Logics: Rethinking Resistance to Resource Extraction

Many Indigenous frontline resistance struggles are wrought with strategies and tactics that reinforce colonial logics. From resource extraction resistances, “honoring” treaties, green capitalism, and Indigenous non-profit capitalists, how do we identify, challenge, and go beyond these issues so we can more effectively fight for liberation?In this show we hear from Bearcat reporting from the frontlines […]

Indigenous Action
Indigenous Action
Ep. 9: Against Colonial Logics: Rethinking Resistance to Resource Extraction

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Many Indigenous frontline resistance struggles are wrought with strategies and tactics that reinforce colonial logics. From resource extraction resistances, “honoring” treaties, green capitalism, and Indigenous non-profit capitalists, how do we identify, challenge, and go beyond these issues so we can more effectively fight for liberation? In this show we hear from Bearcat reporting from the frontlines of the Treaty People Gathering and powerful perspectives from Amrah and edxi about their frontline experiences and analysis. As always, claws out!

Guests: edxi betts is an Afro Blackfeet Indigenous trans feminine Pinay multi media insurrectionary artist & organizer. Her work entails political education while providing material support to oppressed & colonized communities. Creating art/media for the sake of propagating resistance culture, counter narrative and collective liberatory projects that spark discourse, sources of healing, critical thought, dialogue, and direct action. More info & support:

Amrah Salomón J. is a writer, artist, activist, and educator of Mexican, O’odham and Tohono O’odham, and European ancestry. @oodhamantiborder @defendoodhamjewed Cashapp: $DefendOodhamJewed Venmo: @DefendOodhamJewed

Jenn Bearcat (she/her): Newe-Numa (Tosa Wihi) from Doka Badee, so-called Northern Nevada currently residing in Albuquerque, NM. She’s a 3rd generation land defender with a healthy respect for a diversity of tactics and a healthy distrust of the state. She contributes to a network of organizers and frontline defenders confronting issues surrounding colonization.

Host: Klee – Instagram: @kleebenally

About the podcast:  Welcome to Indigenous Action where we dig deep into critical issues impacting our communities throughout Occupied America/Turtle Island. This is an autonomous anti-colonial broadcast with unapologetic and claws-out analysis towards total liberation. So take your seat by this fire and may the bridges we burn together, light our way.

Subscribe, like, share on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. Check us out on the

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