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The Searchers

Mike Medberry

Jessica Keetso grew up in the shadow of Black Mesa, a high plateau on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. She is thirty-two, too young to remember when her parents and grandparents fetched their water from nearby springs. After the coal mine opened in 1970, the springs have dried up. Several times each week, her family drives their pickup to collect a few days' worth of water from the Navajo Nation chapter house.

“There’s a couple of springs near where I live that my grandma would point out to me," Keetso said. "She’d tell me that there was a spring there and it doesn’t produce water anymore. But now we don’t have running water. It’s been like that my whole life.”

Keetso's story isn’t unusual in the Four Corners region, the breathtakingly beautiful desert country where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet. Memorialized in classic Westerns and far too many SUV commercials to count, this landscape is one of the enduring symbols of America. It's also an internal colony of the United States where energy companies practiced a form of neocolonial exploitation more commonly associated with what we're now back to calling the Third World, places like Peru, Ecuador, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Niger Delta.

The Four Corners resource boom started with uranium mines jammed through during the Cold War. Then, in the 1960s, a politically connected Mormon lawyer engineered a backroom deal that changed this remote region - a place with the cleanest air in the country - into a furnace supplying electricity to the entire Southwest and the state of California. Peter Matthiessen called the coal industry's work here “the ugliest ecological disaster of our time."

Today, the roughly 250,000 people living on the Navajo and Hopi reservations have lung cancer and kidney failure rates far above national averages. Coal mines have drained scarce water supplies. And the promised prosperity from mines and power plants never arrived.

When Covid hit, 30 percent of Navajo people and 40 percent of the Hopi still lived without running water. Without water or power, simple health measures like washing your hands regularly became extraordinarily difficult. At one point, the Navajo Nation had a higher per capita rate of COVID-19 infections than any state. As food supplies dwindled in the crisis, the situation became even more dire.

The Empire Strikes

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Leroy Keams in front of Peabody dragline in 1971 Save Black Mesa poster. Marc Gaede photograph.

The story starts more than half a century ago, when the much-photographed red rock country where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona meet became a vivid and tragic illustration of historian Bernard DeVoto's maxim that "The achieved West had given the United States something that no people had ever had before, an internal domestic empire."

At 27,000 square miles, the Navajo Nation is the country's largest reservation. Driving through the landscape, it's strikingly beautiful and, at the same time, hard country: high mesas and sweeping red valleys that receive only about 10 inches of rain a year. Water means everything.

Two tribes share the reservation. The Hopi people have 2,531 square miles that lie within the boundaries of the more populous Navajo Nation. The U.S. government drew these lines in the 1800s, yet despite this recipe for strife, the tribes peacefully co-existed for a century, sharing land and often intermarrying.

In the 1950s, Utah attorney John Boyden, ostensibly representing the Hopi but in reality pursuing the interests of the Peabody Coal Company, brought suit against the Navajo on land rights, and the cases went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1963, the Court decided the lands issues, but more importantly, ruled on subsurface mineral rights. In 1964 with encouragement from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, both the Hopi and Navajo tribal councils granted mining permits to the Peabody Coal Company. Even in the 1960s, the payment to the tribes was far below market rates.

It's worth noting that while the “official” tribal government of the Hopi approved the coal leases, the traditional councils did not. Most of the Hopi people followed traditional ways and did not participate in the councils established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Instead, they were part of village-based councils in which questions were determined by local leaders called Kikmongwi (pronounced Kee-mung-wee). But in those days, in the halls of power, these nuances were lost. What's even more striking is that Boyden's conflict of interest was not widely known until University of Colorado law professor Charles Wilkinson published his research in the 1990s.

The region’s fate was well and truly sealed in 1968. Two large dams were slated to be built that would have flooded the Grand Canyon to power the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a multibillion-dollar water-diversion scheme that included pumping Colorado River water over a 1,200-foot mountain pass to Arizona.

Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, a strong environmentalist, was also a Utah Mormon. He knew that water was the key to the region's economic growth - its survival, really - and a stable and abundant water supply could only be secured by big dams and water diversions.

But the Sierra Club, led by the legendary environmentalist David Brower, fiercely opposed the dams. Brower commissioned full-page ads that ran in the New York Times, asking "Should We Also Flood The Sistine Chapel So Tourists Can Get Nearer The Ceiling?” What one notices most about the ad today is its wall of words. People actually read back in those days.

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Forced to come up with an alternative, Udall's advisers agreed to help fund construction of the Navajo Generating Station, one of four enormous coal plants planned for the Four Corners region. In return, a portion of the plant’s generating capacity would be used for hauling the Central Arizona Project’s water over the mountains. Brower agreed to the deal.

The tradeoff received little attention until people like Jack Loeffler, a beatnik and musician who had a Native girlfriend at the time - and a close friend of iconic Southwest novelist Ed Abbey - found out about it. In Santa Fe, a loose alliance of white artists, beatniks, writers, photographers, and American Indian Movement activists threw themselves into an all-out effort to stop the desecration.

Calling themselves the Black Mesa Defense Fund, they brought six lawsuits, got stories in national magazines, made a film that was shown to the New Mexico state legislature, and lobbied every governmental body from Congress to the United Nations. When all else failed, Black Mesa Defense and AIM activists tried—and in true anarchist fashion, failed—to blow up a coal slurry line.

None of it worked.

The Four Corners was sacrificed to the nation's appetite for cheap electricity. To make room for the strip mine on Black Mesa, between 12,000 and 16,000 Navajos were forcefully relocated, the largest Indigenous relocation in the United States since the Trail of Tears. Once one of the country’s most pristine regions, the Four Corners became one of the most polluted. The nexus of environmental justice and social justice could not have been clearer.

Later the Sierra Club worked to shut down the Four Corners power plant. But, according to Andy Bessler, who worked on the issue while representing the club in Arizona, the job was made more difficult because many of the people there had not forgiven Brower, who died more than 20 years ago, or the Sierra Club itself.

"What I heard is 'David Brower is the whole reason we have this problem,'" Bessler said. "For white people this is history this is years ago. But for the Navajo, this is what you did to my people."

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Hopi elder Ralph Selena at a coal slurry spill on Black Mesa. Photo by Terrence Moore.

A Panopticon of Life and Death

A few months ago, I made what had become an annual pilgrimage to the Four Corners. Something made me notice how exalted the place names were: the Altar of Sacrifice, the Court of Patriarchs, the Great White Throne. The Temple of Sinewava was named after the coyote spirit and had been worshiped by Paiute Indians. As I traveled deeper into the country, pink sand dunes and cinnamon-colored cliffs became endemic. I was thinking about Big Coal, and I remembered being on the Kaiparowits plateau, north of the reservoir, more than thirty years ago. The fight to save Kairparowitz from Big Coal was one of the iconic battles of the U.S. environmental movement.

I was the Utah Representative of the Wilderness Society. My hiking partner was Scott Groene, a lawyer who was on the board of the ass-kicking Southern Utah Wilderness Association in those days and later became the group's executive director, having devoted his life to saving the canyon country. We were young and our bravado was matched by our ignorance. I had only a vaguest idea of the political tradeoffs that had changed this remote region.

But we could feel the power of that place. On that day, the red rocks were as gorgeous as ever I’ve seen them. I remember the desert, a panopticon of life and death, appearing to us in the burnished ivory of a bighorn sheep skull. The plateau's sandstone was a veritable Noah’s Ark for paleontologists, showing an unbroken sequence of the period between 70 and 82 million years ago. The skull of a horned dinosaur previously unknown to science had been found there, along with other previously unknown species: a toothless dinosaur, an unusual species of duck-billed dinosaur, giant crocodilian fossils.

Dead dinosaurs meant coal. In 1965, Southern California Edison had floated the idea of a 3,000-megawatt coal plant on the plateau. That proposal had been shot down, but in the late 1960s, Big Coal was back. For an earlier generation of environmentalists, the ensuing fight to save the Four Corners was a life-changing experience. Earth First! Founder Dave Foreman jumped in, as did Brant Calkin, the legendary environmentalist who turned the Southern Utah Wilderness Association into a national powerhouse, along with a motley band of artists, photographers, and radical American Indian Movement activists. They remember the time as life changing. Perhaps most affected was Phil Williams, a young British engineer working for Bechtel. After Black Mesa, Williams founded International Rivers Network, the first organization to make a concerted effort to defend the rights of indigenous people by opposing industrial dam projects bankrolled by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Like a lot of young people, we weren't paying enough attention to our elders, but we understood the power of the place, and the sharp divide between a wild sandstone plateau and a landscape defaced by thoughtless development.

After a bone-crunching hike, we headed to Lake Powell, a tourist playground created by the dam that had drowned Glen Canyon, immortalized by our saint, the writer Edward Abbey. “There was a time when, in my search for essences, I concluded that the canyonland country has no heart. I was wrong. The canyonlands did have a heart, a living heart, and that heart was Glen Canyon and the golden, flowing Colorado River,” Abbey had written.

It felt like sacrilege, but the lake was within two miles of where we were hiking, we were hot and sweaty, and it was too tempting not to drive those couple of miles and jump in. As if to punish us for our infidelity, when we got there, the shore of the reservoir was muck and mud. One step in was one step more than plenty.

We got the hell out of there. It wasn’t just the mud. The Kaiparowits Plateau was due north of the Navajo Generating Station, the largest of the four coal plants in the Four Corners. The red rock cliffs might have looked like a dreamy calendar picture but smoke from that dirty coal plant scraped our lungs like steel wool. The basin was stuffed with it.

In 1987, when Scott and I hiked the canyonlands, the Navajo Generating Station wasn’t the only coal plant operating in a spare region that had once been home to the Navajo and Hopi people, their sheep, and a handful of whites who ran trading posts. Three other coal-fired power plants were busily burning coal on and around native land: the San Juan and Four Corners Generating Stations and just over the line in Nevada, the Mohave Generating Station.

The dark map of coal was an overlay on the tribal lands. The Four Corners Generating Station was the country’s largest single source of nitrogen oxide emissions, while the Navajo Generating Station was spewing massive amounts of carbon dioxide.

I can attest to that. Everywhere we turned, the air was dense as cowboy coffee. The plateau was stunningly beautiful, but what I remember most of all are the smokestacks and the black smoke. If I’d had a hatchet to throw, it would have stuck in that air.

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Four Corners power plant. Photograph by Terrence Moore.

Garage Sale Wisdom

This spring, thirty-five years after Scott and I visited the Kaiparowits Plateau, I had a specific agenda: to find out if the Native people would be able to break free from the neocolonialist yoke placed on their necks half a century ago. But I tend to mosey, and that's how it went.

You know you've arrived when you see the hogans, the traditional homes of the Navajo people. Older hogans were built with forked poles to hold the rest of the dwelling in a conical formation. Those traditional homes mostly have been replaced by larger octangular hogans, which have more living room inside.

I stopped at one trading post where I saw T-shirts with pictures of the Grand Canyon. There was a book by Sherman Alexie. And there were many, many sand paintings and turquoise necklaces. I left with a sand painting.

After passing through the Canyons of the Ancients in southern Colorado (highest known density of archaeological sites in the United States!) I stopped at garage sale. The Navajo woman holding the sale told me that she didn’t like the closeness of people to one another when they lived in trailer homes so she opted to live out in the backcountry. The living was hard because she didn’t have regular power to her place, she said.

Looking up, I could see huge power towers holding hundreds of thousands of volts running from the Navajo power plant and the Kayenta mine to the broader world. I didn’t mention this. What could I tell her that she didn’t already know?

The woman’s son was working on a racing car beside their house. I bought a cup for five dollars. She insisted that I take two. I said thank you and took two. She had a small corral of half a dozen sheep that she pointed out proudly. I smiled and nodded.

The woman running the garage sale made a choice. Others have no choice. The Navajo Nation estimates that 18,000 out of 48,000 homes on their reservation are without electricity. A greater percentage of the Navajo population lacks electricity than the population of Kenya, still considered a Third World country, where the World Bank estimates that 70 percent of the population has electric power.

Nationwide, the statistics are equally disturbing. Roughly 14 percent of Native American households have no access to electricity, as compared to only 1.4 percent of all U.S. households. The great irony, of course, is that the region supplying power to millions of people in southern California is the epicenter of want: The Navajo Nation accounts for 75 percent of the households in the U.S. without electricity.

Everything Has to Change

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Nicole Horseherder, co-founder of Tó Nizhóní Ání.

A lot has changed since the days of the Black Mesa Defense Fund. Native activists are taking the lead on working for a transition to renewable energy, backed up by establishment groups whose staff members are repositories of institutional memory.

Nicole Horseherder, who founded Tó Nizhóní Ání in 2001, is one of the most visible leaders here. After earning a master’s in linguistics at the University of British Columbia, she returned to the Southwest in 1998 and became involved in energy issues almost immediately. Her daughter Jessica, the first person we'd contacted at Tó Nizhóní Ání, and her son are both working for the group. But Horseherder is the high-profile leader. Some say she'll be the next president of the Navajo nation. Stranger things have happened.

When I visited Horseherder in Flagstaff, she got straight to the bottom line. "What people need to know out there is that the Navajo have subsidized this entire energy operation, especially the people of Black Mesa, where I live. We could have been the richest indigenous nation in the United States. But something like this is never meant to bring prosperity to the community, especially if you’re using resources that people need to survive: water and land and air.”

In 2015, Horseherder, along with the respected Hopi leader Vernon Masayesva, was instrumental in closing the Navajo Generating Station. Now Tó Nizhóní Ání is working to force Peabody to fully reclaim the strip-mined land on Black Mesa by fighting company efforts to be released from its obligations under federal law. Working with other groups, including Diné C.A.R.E., and the solar company Avengrid, Horseherder's organization is trying to secure funding for rural electrification, ratepayer benefits, and stricter climate goals. Perhaps most importantly, she is fighting for economic development that does not include fossil fuels.

Horseherder acknowledges that the region's people are hurting during this transitional period. Jobs created by the mines have been lost, and the solar industry hasn't ramped up enough to buffer the hardships. But, with climate, she suggests, the issue is, to paraphrase the first-century sage Rabbi Hillel: If not now, when?

“These people who work at the mine are relatives of mine," she said. "But I have to do what I have to do, too. This is a long-term proposition. Climate change has to be in the forefront of everything you do. Every business has to be more sustainable and we have to start making better decisions on our water. I have sheep. I haul 500 gallons a week for them. I don’t have that many. I have 50. They’re so pitiful. there’s no water in any of the springs. I feel so sorry for them.”

“Everything has to change and if you understand that, you know what to do.”

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

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Leadership team at the Navajo Transition Energy Company.

In 2013, the Navajo Nation’s leaders, recognizing the effects on workers and the economy, set up a corporation to take ownership of the Navajo Mine, which supplied coal to the Four Corners Power Plant. The corporation was created to enable the transition to renewables by investing some of its profits in solar power and other renewable energy projects. After all, the Navajo land was a natural fit for solar, a place where the sun shines almost 300 days a year.

The days of King Coal are waning, not just on tribal lands. The U.S. used to get 50 percent of its electricity from coal. Now coal supplies only 20 percent of the nation’s energy. In Navajo and Hopi country, the signs appeared almost two decades ago. The Mohave Generating Station was closed in 2005. In 2010 three of the units at the San Juan Generating Station closed. The fourth closed in June, and the last one is supposed to shut down later this year, part of New Mexico’s Energy Transition Act, which requires utilities to go carbon-free by 2045. The biggest hit to workers was the Navajo Generating Station, the West’s largest coal-fired plant. When that closed in 2019, 750 jobs were lost.

The Navajo Transitional Energy Company, known by the acronym NTEC, looked good, and so did its chairman, a handsome Navajo lawyer named Timothy McLaughlin. But the company was dominated by coal industry veterans like CEO Clark Moseley, who had been involved in a scheme to ship coal overseas from mines that had gone bust. Nicole Horseherder put it bluntly: "The upper management of NTEC is a bunch of white people and they need the Indian faces to speak to the Navajo."

Here’s how Forbes magazine told it:

Without notifying the tribe, NTEC bought three enormous coal mines in Wyoming and Montana from a bankrupt company called Cloud Peak Energy for about $100 million, with only $15.7 million upfront — and the assumption of all cleanup costs, estimated at $400 million, according to Clark Williams-Derry, a researcher with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Williams-Derry noted that NTEC also invested in a rail line that would ship the coal to Canadian ports for export. Instead of transitioning the Navajo Nation away from dirty coal, NTEC made the Navajo America’s third-largest coal miner.

Tribal leaders were shocked. NTEC, although owned by the tribe, was set up as a semiautonomous organization. It wasn’t required to consult with the tribe on the purchase—and it didn’t. Navajo President Jonathan Nez branded the move “disrespectful” and yanked the tribe’s financial backstop of NTEC, forcing it to pay more for hundreds of millions’ worth of surety bonds (mine decommissioning insurance, basically). 

“The tide was moving toward renewables,’’ Navajo Vice President Myron Lizer, who was elected with Nez in 2018 on a green-energy platform, told Forbes. “Now we own four coal mines”—three of which aren’t even on Navajo land.

Since then, a chastened NTEC has done more of what it was supposed to do, including investing in a French company developing solar farms on the Nation’s land. But the company’s current CEO, like Moseley, is a coal industry veteran. While the board of directors is mainly Navajo, CEO Vern Lund worked for North American Coal for more than a quarter of a century.

As the halting transition away from coal gets underway, new questions have surfaced. Are renewable energy companies going to act like old school coal and oil companies when it comes to grabbing the resources at the expense of local people? And just how “clean” are some of the energy projects being touted by both government and industry?

Much of the big money, both state and federal, is behind hydrogen. At first glance, hydrogen looks great. Burning hydrogen doesn’t create greenhouse gases; the only byproduct is water. The problem is that it takes a lot of energy to isolate hydrogen atoms from oxygen in H2O. So far, most large-scale hydrogen projects have used natural gas, which creates its own significant climate impacts.

So far, hydrogen projects have been plagued by missed goals, financial problems, and budget overruns. Most importantly, they have not come close to meeting their projected climate goals, according to David Schlissel, the director of resource planning analysis at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Thirty-one chapters of the Navajo Nation agreed; in March, they passed a resolution against hydrogen development. Mario Atencio, the vice president of the Torreon/Starlake Chapter of the Navajo Nation, called "carbon capture," the technology that is supposed to reduce emissions from hydrogen production "a pipe dream" and hydrogen "another fossil fuel Ponzi scheme."

Then there’s helium, which is not just for balloons. (Who knew?) Recently NTEC acquired Tacitus, Inc., a helium-mining company. Used in many industrial applications, including MRIs, semi-conductors, and space technology, helium is extracted by fracking, and, like hydrogen, helium development has generated significant opposition in Navajo communities.

Local Diné who oppose helium development are demanding that 500 abandoned uranium mines and the Four Corners coal mines be reclaimed before any new resource extraction goes forward.

Finally, though, large-scale solar is coming to the region. And most of it, so far, is owned by the tribe. The Kayenta Solar Project, operated by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, produces up to 55 megawatts of energy. A 70-megawatt solar project is expected to come online by November 2022. A 200-megawatt solar plant in Arizona is projected to go online by 2023.

Community members held a demonstration against operators of the 70-megawatt Red Mesa Tapaha Solar Generation Plant in 2021 despite the creation of 300 jobs during its construction, charging that eight families with grazing permits on the land where the plant was being constructed had not been brought into negotiations.

Jessica Keetso talked about concerns that the new boss looks like the old boss, at least when it comes to the rights of communities. "Although our organization supports renewable energy and solar, the way some companies are going about this follows the same way fossil fuel projects start. The people are not made into stakeholders, they’re not active participants, not invited to become active part, they don’t receive benefits. But they are the ones that shoulder the impacts, be it solar, be it fossil fuels. The way that they’re implemented is hurting people. There is always opportunity to engage with communities."

While industrial solar development can be controversial, the real issue is time. Can renewables take hold in time to slow climate change? The transition often feels like three steps forward, two steps back. In the Four Corners, the Supreme Court’s decision to limit the EPA’s ability to regulate may give NTEC’s coal operations a lifeline, and the pandemic has revived the coal market in China, giving the Cloud Peak mines a market again.

But solar is now the cheapest form of power, and the faster the price drops, the faster market forces will kill coal. Joe Biden knows this. When his climate, tax and health legislation - Build Back Better Lite - was stalled by West Virginia Senate Democrat Joe Manchin, he delivered a come-to-Jesus climate speech in front of the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts. This former coal plant now manufactures parts for offshore wind farms. The speech contained no mention of bringing back coal.

Ghost Mine

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Photo credit: Mike Medberry

The next morning, I roamed around the abandoned Kayenta mine. As a gesture toward the signs telling me where I wasn’t supposed to go, I called out “Hello? Hello?” shooting as many photos as I could before I was found. Metallic junk rusted in the blistering sunlight. A conveyor belt ran Into shadowed dark. I was turning to leave when a truck barreled around a corner and skidded to a stop. The man in it was obviously coming to get me. I walked towards waving and smiling. I’m honest like that. I also didn’t want to get shot or some damn thing.

“Hi,” I said. “You’re looking for me, right?” I’d been walking for more than an hour and had photographed everything I wanted. It was okay to get caught.

“That is correct,” the man said.

“Should I hop in?”

“Yeah, hop in. You don’t have a hard hat and you can’t be out here.”

“Oh, OK. I’ll just jump in.”

One never feels comfortable getting into a stranger’s truck but there was no sense in arguing, so I climbed in. He could have busted me for being out there in the mine but he didn’t; he only took me out to my car in the parking lot.

His name was Dan; he was young, one of five employees remaining at the Peabody Kayenta Coal Mine, and, fortunately, a nice guy. He explained that the massive engines that had perplexed me were the engines from draglines that tore coal from the nearby landscape. He said most of the land has been reclaimed. The land looked good but had no trees growing on it; something like sagebrush grew all over the land. I thought it should be planted with miles and miles of solar panels, but thought better of saying it.

“How is it out here?” I asked.

He looked at me directly. “This place is hell!”

I laughed, not expecting that comment. “Why?”

“There's nowhere to go! I have to drive an hour to buy anything and see my friends.”

“Yeah, and how’d you guys expect me to have a hard hat?”

“You have to have a hard hat.”

“Sorry, man,” I said.

Coal may be on the decline here in Navajo and Hopi country, but the war in Ukraine has revived the industry, at least for now. While the Biden administration's Build Back Better Lite bill contains the most sweeping climate response in the nation's history - along with some gnarly sweeteners for Manchin, including a contentious natural gas pipeline - Europe is reacting to oil and gas shortages by reactivating coal plants that were slated for closure.

Plants in the U.S. are also having their lifespans extended, in part because of Covid-related supply chain problems that are slowing down deliveries of solar panels. What's more worrying is the mindbending energy suck of cryptocurrency. In Hardin, Montana, a coal plant owned by the Crow reservation got a new lease on life because of Bitcoin and is now spewing 10 times the carbon dioxide into the air than it was before, according to Reveal. And while renewables are starting to take hold in the Four Corners, NTEC's Powder River operations got a boost with the increased market for coal in Europe.

There is big money in coal for the Lords of Yesterday. According to, Glencore, the world’s largest coal shipper, is cashing in on the global energy crisis to the tune of nearly $9 billion in the first six months of 2022. The company reported a first half of the year earnings increase of 877% over the same period last year.

It's as though there are two different worlds. There are the Southwestern and California environmentalists, who wish they could disengage from corporate energy - even industrial solar. When I talked to Nicole Horseherder, she echoed the sentiments of most of my environmentalist friends in the American desert. Horseherder acknowledged the reality that both are needed as we race to slow climate change, but it was clear that her heart was with energy independence; not the kind politicians talk about, but the kind that makes a difference to regular people.

Small-scale home and business solar would give the Navajo and Hopi people the control they should have had in the first place, Horseherder told me. “We have to get it into peoples’ minds that off-grid is the better way to go. That’s when you’ll get the most benefit and not only will you benefit from getting a zero bill, but you will learn to manage your own energy.”

Self-sufficiency is certainly the only way for individual Americans to insulate themselves from see-sawing changes to U.S. energy policy. But despite lower costs, rooftop panels cost between $15,000 and $30,000; too much even for many middle-class people. Most of the current federal and state subsidies, both for solar panels and electric cars, consist of tax breaks. Lower income people are simply left out of the equation. That's starting to attract some notice, and perhaps it will change. Otherwise, the recent Biden administration legislation on climate will continue to disproportionally benefit utilities. And with transportation the largest contributor to greenhouse gases it's doubtful whether electric vehicles will be adopted widely enough to get us to our climate goals.

On the way home, I detoured to the Keet Seel and Betatankin ruins in Tsegi Canyon. They provided superb examples of how the ancient Hopi must have lived in their dry environment . These people made ceramics and textiles from clay, wood, stone, and fiber and they grew vegetables. A plaque said the Anasazi, as they were called for decades despite the Hopi claims of ancestry, had lived in the west for 13 centuries, dominating the plateaus and canyons in the Four Corners region.

The Hopi, Navajo and “Anasazi” knew their land: they knew, for example, that pinyon pines would provide pine nuts for food, pitch to waterproof pots and to fasten knives and arrowheads to shafts of wood for hunting. They made pots out of clay. The antelope bitterbrush, cliff rose, yucca, and juniper were useful in their own ways. When the resources became depleted, the people left the place for a time but always with thoughts of returning.

The Wind

I couldn't shake that wind. It was the same wind that I had heard for a week, howling and whining; the same wind that had fueled the 21,000-acre Tunnel Fire, forcing nearly the evacuations of nearly 800 people in Flagstaff and inspiring the comments we in the West are getting used to hearing, voiced in a tone of disbelief: “This isn’t normal.”

Only now it is. Normal. Crossing into southern Colorado, the wind kept at it, twanging across wires strung high overhead. I imagined windmills and solar panels along those powerlines and a Navajo Nation and Hopi tribe that shared that power first with its own people. But that will only be enough to make change if the people have water. And if the coal companies clean up the waste they’ve left behind.

Cars whirred by and suddenly I realized that those ugly metal towers looked hauntingly like the sand painted medicine man that I had purchased for my dashboard. I saw the closeness of the two images: the geometrical shapes, lines of power emanating from their shoulders, the rectangular head, the black-and-blue metallic lines fastening to the ground, and the sky and rocks in subtle hues of red.

On the inside the painter had written: “The sandpainting you see originates from Navajo healing ceremonies. The medicine man builds a sandpainting and places the patient in the middle of it. When the ceremony is over, the sand painting is destroyed, taking the illness with it.”

The sounds and distances describing this land spoke to me of loneliness and hard-baked survival, of joy and beauty. The towers grew smaller and smaller and smaller in the distance. I thought: why must we always pass so swiftly on the road and never see the world on its own terms? I stopped the car. Grabbing the sandpainting, I returned it to the ground, mixing the blue, black, brown, and red-colored sands into the tan-colored sands of the earth.

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Linda Horseherder Henley, Nicole Horseherder, Jessica Keetso, Mikayla Johnson. Three generations of Black Mesa women.

Mike Medberry has served as a senior environmentalist for several local and national conservation organizations. He is the author of two books: On the Dark Side of the Moon and Living in the Broken West.

Cool Water ::: Marty Robbins

Coming of the White Man ::: XIT

Out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, XIT's Plight of the Redman is a concept album regarding the Age of Exploration when European settlers arrived in the Americas, changing the lives of American Indians forever.

Blood & Water ::: Mark Knopfler

Cool Cool Water ::: The Beach Boys

Pray for Our Planet ::: Blue Mountain Tribe

Silence is a Weapon ::: Black Fire

Indian Reservation ::: The Raiders

Black Smoke ::: The Tindersticks

High Water ::: Bob Dylan

Nature’s Law ::: Brian Blade

Good Man ::: Levi Platero Band

Black Mesa ::: Joel Nielsen