This excerpt was taken from The NM Political Report. For the full article click HERE
The Navajo Nation
Mario Atencio, who is Diné [Navajo] and a board member of Diné C.A.R.E. (Citizens Against Ruining our Environment), said the Navajo, who are still living on their traditional land, are already being dispersed from their homeland due to climate change.
“Even now, people are selling their cows. It’s kind of happening. There are no jobs, you can’t raise and sustain a herd of cows, what else are you going to do? You’ve got to go work. It’s not going to be a mass migration. It’s happening very slowly, a climate change diaspora,” he said.
Atencio said Navajo believe they emerged from the land and have lived on Navajo land since time immemorial. He said a forced relocation, due to climate change, would be “genocidal.”
He said some Indigenous people who rely on medicinal plants are not finding those plants due to climate change and worsening drought, which he said is a matter of food security and food sovereignty.
“Navajo have a relationship with plants and animals. It is something that has to be remembered as a form of sustainability,” he said.
But, the biggest climate change challenge facing the Navajo will be sustainable water resources, Atencio said. Robyn Jackson, Diné [Navajo] and climate and energy outreach coordinator for Diné C.A.R.E., said a number of Navajo farmers did not plant this year because of the significant decrease in water due to the severe drought.
“It’s a trend people have been seeing over the years,” she said.
Not being able to plant, as Navajo people have done for generations, affects mental health because many dry land farmers received their seeds from their grandparents. She said maintaining the generational traditions are a reminder of the Navajo way of life.
Navajo and other Indigenous people have had to suffer the effects of environmental racism or generations. Jackson said that during the 1970s, the U.S. government named areas of the Navajo Nation a national sacrifice zone to meet the energy needs for large cities in the southwest region.
“Uranium, coal, oil and gas, a lot of what was extracted from there produced a lot of electricity that ran pumps to send electricity to other cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas and allowed those cities to grow. That’s been an historical injustice,” she said.
Oil and gas wells have been in operation on Navajo land since the 1920s, Jackson said. The extractive industries have brought “huge environmental impacts” with air and water quality issues and now that some, such as the coal industry, are in decline and closing, this brings additional economic impacts as well, Jackson said.
In a land where water is scarce and a third of Navajo families lack electricity and running water at home, the Navajo’s water issues have been exacerbated by different types of mining that American industry has extracted on Navajo land, including uranium mining and strip coal mining, Jackson said. This has left the Navajo with some contaminated water sources. She said there are over 1,000 abandoned mines on Navajo land.
“If you have to haul water to have 20 seconds of water running [as health officials advised during the COVID-19 pandemic] that is a huge amount of water but you don’t understand that if you‘re not in that situation,” she said.
There is also another aspect to Navajo life that climate change could impact, which is the potential disruption of being able to hand down traditional beliefs, as well as traditional Navajo land, to future generations.
“I think for a lot of individuals brought up with traditional Navajo beliefs, thinking about future generations and what customs, knowledge, teachings we want to pass on is a part of our thinking; thinking about not only grandchildren but those who come after, to have a place to live life as we’ve known it,” Jackson said.