As the Arizona sun crests the ridge of Big Mountain, it casts a deep red hue on Peabody Energy’s Black Mesa coal mine. Less than a hundred yards away, in the shadow of the towering coal processing plant, the Benally family gets ready for a day of school, work and sheepherding.
Black Mesa Mine is one of two coal mines located in the middle of the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona — the other is Kayenta Mine, just five miles down the road. Both mines opened in the late 1960s, but the Benally family has lived there for generations.
Norman Benally has been a community activist almost his entire life and remembers herding sheep on this land before Peabody arrived.
“I’ve seen the landscape change, literally,” he said.
Many of the wells that Benally visited as a young child are now buried and poisoned by mining runoff from the surrounding mountains, which have been blown up, mined out and reshaped by bucket loaders. Daily living next to an active mine is a hectic one, and Benally describes it as “egregious,” with smog clogging the air.
For more on this story, visit: Restoring natural and cultural resources on Black Mesa – Waging Nonviolence.