29 August 2007

Coal & Black Mesa - Sheepherding on the Navajo Reservation, Arizona


After a stormy night of being kept awake by howling coyotes & barking dogs down at the coral, I wake again suddenly, alert to strage noises and an intense pink pre-dawn glow filling the hut.

Strange yelp and moans are emerging from under the woodpile, along with new smaller canine whimpers, so I go an investigate. The small dog is having her pups. As the sun breaks the horizon another tiny voice is added to the throng and off in the distance the coyotes begin to sing.

Vegan sheepherding?

I'm in Arizona out on the Navajo/Hopi reservation herding sheep for a Navaho elder.

What brings me here is that there is coal under these arid lands, lots of coal - and the usual swath of environmental and cultural destruction that comes with its curse. Its a very complex situation out here, involving the ancestral homelands of two indigenous peoples, so as a visitor I wouldn't presume to understand it enough to summarise it here. But what is clear is that it's white man & coal that the root of the problem. I'll quote summery from the Black Mesa Indigenous Support web-site.

"In 1974 the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 93-531 allegedly to settle a so-called land dispute between the Dineh and their Hopi neighbors. This law required the forced relocation of well over 14,000 Dineh and a hundred plus Hopi from their ancestral homelands. The "dispute" being settled by PL 93-531 was, in reality, fabricated by the US government as a way to obtain easier access to strip-mine one of the largest coal reserves in North America. The land known as Black Mesa is home to thousands of traditional sheepherders, weavers, silversmiths and farmers. For hundreds of years before Europeans came to the Americas the Dineh and Hopi existed in balance with each other and with Mother Earth."

I am here to help a family who have been resisting the relocation since the 70's. Many resisted and were harassed until only a handful remain. In Star Mountain Valley only Ida and her sister, and two of their children, still live here.

"We had a good life one the reservation. We lived in harmony with the land. Now we live with the enemy. Our ways are gone. Relocation is termination of Indian people. Its like a storm that sweeps through a field of grass, blowing chafe here and there, uprooting plants, making them tumbleweeds, like the Anglos." - Relocatee

I'd been wanting to visit the area since a mob of us in Newcastle NSW occupied the offices of Peabody Coal in solidarity with the people here, when Peabody moved back into Newcastle after buying up Excel coal. Action report, video & photos on Arizona Indymedia.

From the Press release: “Climate change now is a global issue and the global community must now act to protect what is left of our precious environment. These coal companies have no place in our future the way they desecrate the earth and our sacred homelands. Peabody’s practices in America have shown that they have no regard for the earth their and they will do the same here. We will not let the desecration of indigenous cultures continue, here in Australia or overseas” said Arthur Ridgeway who is a traditional owner of the Pambalong area that now makes up Newcastle.

Its good to meet local folks & campaigners here in Arizona that had heard of that action!

Most of the time out here its Just Ida, who is 80, and her daughter Rose, who is 60. Other members of the family come out to visit as often as they can, but cannot move back out having previously left for school & work while growing up.

It was great relief that in my first few days here there was another supporter to show me the ropes. Eli is uber-competent guy who has spent many months out here over the last two years, supporting the family & sheepherding and he gave me the low-down on this very different lifestyle.

My Day involves getting up with the sun, helping make breakfast, feeding the dogs & horses, then taking the sheep out till it gets to hot and they want to come home.

The rest of the time is a mix of cooking, cleaning, fixing stuff, shopping runs and chilling out in the shade away from the sweltering heat. The thermometer gets well over 40.C in the shade some days!

Its amazing how quickly new things become important in life; water, sheep, the excitement of the feral horses coming by. It's the first time I've given my brain any time to slow down at all since those long beautiful mornings up my tree in Tasmania, about 6 months ago.


Water needs to be fetched from tanks at nearby springs, siphoning into barrels in the back of pick-up truck and then siphoning into various water containers at the house and coral. After many days of coughing up water I finally started getting the hang of it! One you've fetched, carried and siphoned every drop of water your using you really look at your usage 'how much do I really need to wash these dishes'? I'm not sure I'll look at water coming from a tap the same way again.

I hear from Ida that she used to grow squash & watermelon and many other things in the now dry sandy garden filled with tumbleweeds - the water table has dropped and they get significantly less rain than they used to. Their wells are drying up too. "The water is gone, deep. And the rain, not like it used to be, where is the rain?"

So a devastatingly familiar story unfolds where the indigenous people of the earth are feeling the most consequences of our carbon abusive society. The lower water table is from water mining for the slurry lines. Its also drying up the wells. Also there is the relocations to expand the mines. And then, at the other end end of the climate change cycle, their arid lands are becoming uninhabitable. So the people who we need to be learning off the most. who know how to live sustainablly on this planet are being pushed of their lands. Cultural genocide.

Of dogs and sheep

One of my main fascinations here is the pack of nameless sheepdogs who live with the sheep and come out herding to protect them. They aren't like British sheepdogs, and the visions of flat-capped farmers lounging on a crook shouting 'come-by' and the dogs doing all the works. They do their own thing, and protect the sheep from Coyotes and other dangers. You do the herding... and sometimes the sheep herd you!

Watching the dogs world is like something from west side story with fights to be the alpha male, who will hang out/tolerate who and the many pregnancies & pups.. Out in the hills they like to chase Jack-Rabbits occasionally one catches one and shares the spoils with the alpha.

Snake in the grass

Out with the sheep when the dogs go crazy - somehow different and more urgent then when chasing the jackrabbits. So I'm on my guard as I approach the frantic pack, when one of the dogs hurls it head back and into the air goes flying a shimmering S writhing in the sun.


The dogs finally calm down and wander off leaving one to guard its prize. I come as close as I dare and see its camouflage patterns in the grass - but dare not approach as it may be playing dead and the last thing I want is to be up close and personal with a pissed, venomous, sidewinder.

Black Mesa

Ida's Daughter, Verna, a long time campaigner and Author, spends much of he time out here and working on the campaign to resist the relocations. She took me out to see the nearby Peabody mine up on 'Big Mountain' to add to my talks & slideshows about the destructiveness & resistance to coal mining & infrastructure.

People up there who have been 'relocated' for the mines and they cover over the piits with fake weird hills where all the plant they have planted are dying.. and people live so close to the mines that their homes & lands are covered with a thick dust and their windows rattle & smash with the blasting.

"I realize your job is to call for People With Hearts for Black Mesa, Star Mountain, and the rest of Big Mountain, and we are thankful for everyone's tireless effort. Just as it is the same for the elders of Big Mountain, my mother's is a keeper of her legacy. We are in to defend their traditional duty. We will never ever fully understand their ultimate committment to protect their medicine bundles, prayers, sacred places, natural springs, plants, air, and all life, and we can be there when they need us. Our elders will never leave their homes, land, animals and their entire belief systems, and ecause of their stance, we must stand guard. Our years of struggle will never cease because of our elders. We are obligated to cherish them." -Verna Clinton- Star Mountain

For me most amazing thing about being in Star Mountain Valley, even beyond the stunning volcanic mesas, wide open skies and thunderous storms, is listening Ida's stories and wisdom. This might just be the strongest woman, and the strongest person I've ever met.

Black Mesa Water Coalition
Stop Peabody
Black Mesa Indigenous Support

Articles on Black Mesa:
American Indian Cultural Support
Talking Tree
Shundahai Network - Dedicated to Breaking the Nuclear Chain

27 August 2007

Coast to coast - trailing the US activst calendar

Julian bounds naked across the rocky beach screaming with determination, hits the water, splashing in deeper with a few more leaps, then dives under the sparkling surface. In less than a blink of an eye in a shower of white surf he's resurfaced, screaming louder and urgent than before and runs twice as fast up the beach to a waiting towel, looking stunned. Its still early spring in Maine, and on impulse we've run away from the tour for a few days and hitched up to northern Maine, and now we've hit our first Ocean since Florida and are determined to take the plunge. Our local friends are looking dubious.

My turn. The running across rocks option isn't open to me, since busting my ankle in that fateful fall in the New Zealand mountains a few years back. So I put a foot in the surf washing up the beach and a numbing cold pain envelopes it. That aching deep-bone numb sensation that just feels wrong like death. I pull my foot out fast and its bright red and stinging. Surly if this water wasn't salty it would be frozen! For the first time I really, really acutely appreciate what the gulf stream does for us in the UK.

I'm not sure how I'm going to get in till I spot some sea-weed covered rocks with waves crashing into them. I clamber up then as the ocean pulls back I drop myself into the path of an oncoming wave. I let the wall of intense icy shock pull me into the sea and attempt to swim, but I find the ability to breath has left me as I gasp with cold.

I find I am back on the rock.. not remembering how I got out.. body shocked and unable to move as I hug to the dark stone for its vapid not-quite-heat. Maybe I've finally taken this 'must swim in every body of water I see' thing a little to far.

'I like Maine' I think.. 'hmm when the tour's over....'

Months later... Michias Maine

The Beehive Collective are Radical Artists & Eduactiors.. they are part of the Rising Tide North America Network, and I met them at the beginning of the Tour in Texas where they were down working on their next project. The Small town of Michais became my new home as I was warmly enveloped into this new family and took up residence in their tree-house.

As well as working internationally the Bees are involved in local community organising, and a few years back the Bees bought & rescued the old grange hall. Which is now restored and back as a community centre.

After a life of endless highways, strip malls, mountain top removal, posh universities, thundering trucks & Hummers I was soon charmed by Michias's hardy community. Life feels little more real - as people live there cos its beautiful, cheep and far from the rest of the US. For the first time since Texas I thought.. "I could stay here".

Much of my time was spent digging in gardens, being eaten my Mossies (Mosquitos for all the Americans!), eating good food, swimming in cold rivers, dressing up and working on my tour trainers pack.

I learnt a lot about globalisation and the devastation of mass infrastructure via the Bee's posters and got to join in the brainstorming process for a few little bits of their new eagerly awaited poster.. which is looking fantastic.

We went on a side mission up-to Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) where I met up with old housemates from Auckland, New Zealand for the Atlantica protests (oh I have SO many rants about tatics I wont even start right now..)

lurking in border towns

Then my final six weeks became a mammoth feat of logistics. as on hardly any cash I looked at all the great things going on and worked out what could sensibly do before I had to leave.. then ignored that and tried to go to everything anyway.

So it began..
an an epic 8,758 km 5,442 Miles roadtrip catching various rides across the States

It started with a crazy two day drive down the Atlanta Georgia for the US Social Forum. The USSF was a great experience, however Georgia, in the deep south, in July was not. Craziness - so hot you stagger from air-con to air-con.. not good!

I've never gone to any of the European Social Forums, having a bad impression from people it was all a bunch of privileged liberal NGO types and not very real. But the USSF was mainly organised by people of colour, and It was amazing ot go to vast plenaries where non of the (slightly a minority of) white folks got up and spoke at all. As a popular education nerd It was great to go to workshops run by Project South, a US based pop-ed collective.

Rising Tide ran a workshop on carbon trading (I did the pop-ed bits.. and ranted about geo-engineering) and people were engaged & entertained while learning stuff.. in a workshop on carbon trading! yay!

So.. another ride north to the The EF! Gathering in, also sweltering, Indianna. Followed a whirly couldn't-have-fantasised-about-it-better week of good friends, beautiful people, climbing workshops, intense conversations on the 'sate of the movement' sneeking off to cold springs and swimming a lake to cool down. One of the sillier 'actions' of the week being a 60 person strong naked flash mob of a Rising Tide meeting we were trying to have.. in a thunderstorm, ending up with us all swimming in the lake while lighting struck around us. Not the most sensible evening of my life.. but feck loads of fun! And there were thousands of flash-bugs (fireflies) everywhere that constantly had me wide eyed and excited like a kid in snow..

Hitting the road again in a friends truck for a crazy 30 hour non-stop ride to a place thats always grabbed my heart.. Arizona - to spend a few weeks at Black Mesa Sheepherding on the Navajo Reservation (its all about coal, again).. that will be the next blog!

Then an overnight bus to Santa Barbara to meet a friend and drive up the coast.. and to my surprise he picked me up in a pristine 70's VW Combie.. we travelled up Route 1 vis Big Sur in stye! It was like being on a proper holiday, playing in rivers and stuff, it was great!. A pit-stop in San-Fran - so what did I do with one night in one of my fave cities in the world? .. Sat in the back of an old mattress delivery van with no windows gossiping with an old friend.

Onwards! past the 'garlic capital of the world' (oh really - oh thats so American! - Self proclaimed world capital of everything...what about the French?)

Then up past the big trees of the west coast to Oregon to get ready for climate camp.. with brief adventure out to some hot springs in the forest (Lots of foresty pics).

So the only calendar item I dropped was Queeruption in Vancover.. only a few hours north - but thought it was better to stay and help with the camp, and was joined by some border rejects and we had a not-at-Queeruption-solidarity get together and became 'Brian's Angels'.. we found these costumes out on the street walking the dog!

Crazy bug found on the street in Atlanta (Rhinoceros Beetle - the strongest animal on the planet):

Many more pics on my flickr.

24 August 2007

On tour in the belly of the beast - Rising Tide North America

So its been a while......Again.

Plunged headlong into the paradox of so much going on and so little time to process any of it... let alone blog any of it.

A massive 7,129 miles or 11,473 kilometres.

So the Rising Tide tour... well it was intense. However three and a half months, 40 stops, traveling on a bus, with a small group of people, talking about climate change all the time always was going to be intense. We all went a little mad, and sank to far into our vices - mine being kombucha & myspace .

A couple of months in we banned 'end of the world' conversations, took up bad harmony singing, and were a lot better off for it - and I now have the ' floodculture ' blog to vent my climate despair..
(OK my tourmates are gonna KILL me for putting that song online.. *hides*)

As always.. a knudge to check out my pics on flickr .

The tour was quite an undertaking.. and we never 'finished' the planning.. as every stop we'd debrief and tailor and adapt for the next stop.. this was a full time 24/7 job! But it got better and better as we gained confidence and learned off all the great folks we met. There is a film of one of out later tour stops below.

OK.. the tour.. well here's my blurb on it (its in italics if you wanna skip it and to get back to my more random ramblings):

climate change, community response & popular education

Climate change is happening already and affecting life all over the planet. We need to do as much as we can to stop it getting any worse, but we also need to be prepared as communities to deal with the effects of what’s coming as the changes get more severe; we wont be able to rely on governments when resources become scarce.

Communities are preparing to respond to climate events and to be able provide for their own needs.. This translates to the many projects already in action and the many more in creation.

Emergency disaster relief teams, health collectives, community gardens, permaculture projects, bike collectives, wind & solar projects, social events, cross community solidarity projects, skill shares and practical training.

Popular education is an integral part of this work as these projects rarely emerge from people being told that things need to happen. They emerge instead from people acting on the needs in their area and from cross-pollination of ideas from other places and cultures.

One of the most rewarding things as a popular educator is to bring together groups of people and find common interests and spark conversations and projects.

At our New York tour stop we were doing a mind mapping exercise on disaster relief. The different needs were mapped out by the group and then it was found that different folks that had never met before had skills in many of the identifi ed areas. An email list sheet was passed around and taken away by one of the participants to organise their next meeting. A new project started!

Film of tour stop in Guelph, Ontario.
And on Google video

Radio Interview of the tour crew in Guelph, Ontario.

And... I've just finished a 'tour documentation project' which has become a 'resource pack for trainers & facilitators' with descriptions of the games & exercises.. and all the tools you need to create your own climate road-show! Its really quite good - I've had lots of ace feedback already so take a look: risingtide.org.uk/pdfs/RTNAtour.pdf 2.4 MB pdf

So.. the most memorable points on the tour?

Florida rocked. (and your all totally hot, it cant just be the endless sunshine?) We swam in warm seas, met up with locals resisting LNG & Coal plants, community gardens, rockin' parties, torrential tropical storms... and.. and we went row boating in the everglades in alligator infested waters! Tour Blog post on Florida.

Hmm what else? Bloomington (my bloomies.. I love & miss y'all), clowning with circa in chicago, gourmet dumpster chefs in Shepherdstown, sleeping out in the west Virginia Appalachian mountains, crazy gorges & high-school stops in Ithaca NY, Kick-starting Rising Tide Canada in Ottawa, (40 folks to their 1st meeting) and Montreal - Ces't Fantastique...

The Little Village Environments Justice Organisation
are the most inspiring & cool folks ever! In the largest mexican community in US they are making all the link with community organsing, fighting 2 coal power plant and community gardening turning lawns into food.. and much much more..

The 'seed sow road show' was a total high.. we met up with a cycle tour.. which, after spending a day cycling around the projects of The youth run Worcester Roots project who have test lead levels in soil then plant bio-remediation plants in problem soil.. all in a big ghost-busters 'toxic soil busters' bus.

Visiting and bringing supplies to the indigenous Six Nations Blockade in Canada was amazing.. to see them taking down condos.. check out these links to find about more about their inspiring & bold actions..

There were also some intense & hard places. Like visiting Larry Gibson, who's home is surround by coal mines.. . in Appalachia they literally blow off the tops of the mountains to get at the coal.. he used to live on the smallest mountain in the area.. now his land tower about the rubble and devastated land around. There is a short film about Larry here.

There is so much more to tell! maybe some stories will eek out at a later date.. we met so many fantastic folks at every stop we were hosted by the most rad amazing people.. so a huge thanks to y'all - love ya!

Some pics from the road below.. and there are many more on flickr . And more on the blog real soon!

Carbro web of fun..

The 'L' in Chicago

Vote Nobody.. in Guelph, canada

Shark Jars.. real or not? (Florida)

To the point

Creepy how the graves & sky-scraper look the same..

Somewhere in the north-east it all started getting a little strange.. (HP Lovecraft country)

Cowboys for Christ.. (Gas station in Georgia)

'Community'. (Arlington, DC)

All these cakes are Vegan.. Cookie loves Vegan cake... (a NYC bakery)

Florida.. (at river threatened by power plant)