Tuesday, July 09, 2013

"Broken Rainbow" documents struggles of Native Americans in Arizona against big coal

Broken Rainbow”, directed by Victoria Mudd , narrated by Martin Sheen, made all the way back in 1985, documents the involuntary resettlement of Navajo Indians off their own ancestral lands (some of them belonging to Hopi) to make way for coal and energy companies in the Black Mesa area or northeastern Arizona.  This development, lobbied for by the energy companies, was masked by the Navajo-Hopi Resettlement Act of 1974, Public Law 93-531.
The Native Americans describe their hardship, which include cancer for men who had worked in the uranium mines, and combat injuries for men who had served in the military. Many people, especially women, were not able to deal with a “money” economy where they had to pay rent or mortgage, and lost their homes.
The film could have gone more into the issue of diabetes among Native Americans when they eat a western diet of processed foods.  It did describe their trade and farming methods, that they had sustained for centuries.  It’s interesting, though, to wonder what happened to the nearby Chaco culture two hundred miles away in New Mexico.  It gradually deconstructed itself. 

The DVD has a 21-minute short subject, “The Struggle Continues” (2006), with more native testimonials, and an account of the effort by Senator John McCain to revise the act.  The short mentions the connection to Enron, which wen under in 2001. The original film also discusses Peabody Coal Company.

I have been in the Black Mesa area a few times, mainly 1975 and 2000. 

I've always wondered about the "morality" of American takings of Native American lands (we all "benefit" from it today), and the legality of the reservation system, which I saw a lot of when living in Minnesota (particularly with visits to the casino at Mystic Lake). 

Western coal seams are much thicker than those in Appalachia and tend to occur in less mountainous areas, but energy companies say it is not practical to replace Appalachian coal from mountaintop removal with western coal. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Black Mesa picture, here

Compare this film to “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon” (2005, PBS, with Robert Redford) and “Smoke Signals” (1998, Chris Eyre).  

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