In America and the other industrialized nations, we need to focus beyond our own energy and environmental problems and consider also the sufferings of others.
Higher gas prices, more smog and pollution, the threat of global warming, and the many wars ongoing make the production of oil a personal concern for all of us. We worry over the danger of accidents and radioactive contamination from nuclear energy.
What few think about or even recognize is that native peoples around the world are suffering pollution, impoverishment, even sickness and death, from exploitation of their lands by oil and mining interests.
My wife and I were founding members of the Committee for Traditional Indian Land and Life (T.I.I.L.), which through the 1960’s and 1970’s supported traditional causes, primarily in the courts. Protests by the Hopi and Dineh drew our attention to Black Mesa in northern Arizona on those same reservation lands where in prior years many died from the carcinogenic effects of uranium mining.
The Committee used the slogan TECHQUA IKACHI, Hopi for “Land and Life.”
The resistance by Hopi and Dineh traditionals continues to this day. One center for this widespread local opposition has been the traditional Hopi village of Hotevilla, founded in 1906 after a clash between Hopi traditionals and those “progressives” who had decided to give up their traditions, convert to Christianity, and seek the material benefits of Western technology and industry. The traditionals were purged from the ancient village of Oraibi into the desert wilderness in the cold of winter and founded their own new village at Hotevilla.
In 1969, the federal government brought in contractors to provide the first electric power to the village of Hotevilla. Power poles were trucked in, and heavy equipment arrived to clear the way for the installation.
The Hopi elders opposed the work. Those old men lay down in the path of bulldozers, ready to sacrifice their lives if necessary to prevent electric power from coming to their village. One ninety-year-old man was injured and did not survive long after.
This scene of confrontation was the proverbial moment of truth for those of us from the civil rights movement.
To capitalist and socialist alike, belief in the value of material progress had always been fundamental. Why would anyone resist progress? How could anyone criticize progress?
The Hopi elders were concerned about the price to be paid. In their traditional economy there was no money because it was not needed. How were the Hopi to get money? There are few jobs on the reservation other than working for the government or working for corporations extracting coal, oil, and uranium out of the land. The only source of money for many is to go on welfare.
There would also be a price more costly than money.
Like many indigenous peoples, the traditional Hopi share a widespread belief and prophecy that taking oil and minerals is a transgression on Mother Earth and will bring disaster. Modern evidence supporting this belief can be found in the toxicity at all mining sites everywhere and in the new specter of a potential doomsday from the continued dominance of coal as our principal energy source.
Their prophecy, like many others, foretells doom for those who forsake the natural way of life.
In those days when we were traveling to Hotevilla to help the traditional Hopi elders, I was a film student at U.C.L.A., and I was inspired to begin work on a documentary about Hopi philosophy, and subsequently on a docudrama about the prophecy.
Their political philosophy of consensus and their harmony with nature as farmers opened up my mind. Community decisions had to be unanimous, and they had a record of a thousand years at peace, a record unmatched by any other society since the dawn of agriculture.
During that period, we shot our short AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A HOPI, presenting the life and philosophy of a traditional. This black-and-white 16mm documentary was a finalist in the National Short Film Competition and was also selected as Best of Filmex at the Los Angeles International Film Exposition in 1980.
Reservation government police prevented us from continuing to film there, so we developed a docudrama to present the aboriginal prophecy about the land.
On our way, we learned the Arizona conflict was but one aspect of a worldwide epidemic of appropriation and exploitation of lands of indigenous peoples, including many other locations in the U.S.A.
Among sites of recent protest demonstrations are Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, Florida, the Dakotas, Alaska, Canada, Burma, Columbia,, Indonesia, Tibet, the Arctic, Mexico, Madagascar, the Philippines, Russia, Chile, Brazil, Guatemala, Australia, Thailand, India, and thousands of demonstrations in China. Many others are not reported.
Civil war over oil has broken out in Sudan, Nigeria, and Pakistan, mass murder in Ethiopia, more than five million dead in the Congo in wars over mining.
There is no organizational link between these peoples. What they have in common is the despoiling of their lands for the profit of others. This week, the United Nations began bringing indigenous peoples from around the globe together in Alaska to share their stories and open the world’s eyes to the impact on their lives of climate change, to which they have contributed little but for which they are paying a heavy price.
Almost 40 years after that demonstration in Hotevilla, the 43-minute docudrama film TECHQUA IKACHI: ABORIGINAL WARNING has been finished, aimed at schools and colleges, and dedicated to now-deceased Hopi elders James Kots, Helen Kots, David Monongye, Nora Monongye, Thomas Banyacya, Carolyn Tawangyama, Ralph Tawangyama, and Dan Katchongva. In our film, traditional prophecy tells of a dangerous future coming from exploitation and pollution of lands of indigenous peoples by oil and mining interests.
TECHQUA IKACHI won the Neptune Award at the Moondance International Film Festival and has been honored at the Columbus Film Festival and at international film festivals in China, India, Canada, Korea, and Latin America. Our purpose with the film is to push the issue into consciousness.
Those elders requested a film be made about the Hopi prophecy. The elders risked their lives to block the bulldozers, as in our film. Those elders are gone now, yet the protest demonstrations by the Hopi and Dineh have not only continued, the conflict there over Black Mesa is in crisis. Similar conflicts worldwide continue and worsen.
We have developed a lesson plan for study of Hopi history to learn the wisdom of peace and prophecy.
The Hopi people knew how to be civil to others long before modern so-called civilization, which brought money and modern things but no peace and little civility. The Hopi had lived their quiet life in a difficult desert for many centuries in peace, but now the lust for energy and minerals leaves them and many other indigenous peoples around little chance for peace.