Victory for Earth and Community in the Navajo Nation

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This week, an administrative law judge for the Department of Interior issued an historic decision revoking Peabody Coal Company’s permit for its Black Mesa and Kayenta coal mines, effecting a precedent-setting victory in the decades-long struggle for environmental justice on Black Mesa. The decision also signals that while the Obama Administration still has its work cut out for it, it has nevertheless departed from the Bush Administration’s wholesale support for fossil fuel based projects — the December 2008 Black Mesa permit was one of Bush’s many 11th hour dirty energy permits.

Judge Holt ruled that because the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) failed to issue a supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the project, after Peabody revised its plans for the project, OSM’s Final Environmental Impact Statement did not comply with the law. The judge thereby revoked the 2008 permit, which was based on the faulty Final EIS, and remanded it to OSM for revision. 

Wahleah Johns, the co-director of Black Mesa Water Coalition — a Women’s Earth Alliance project partner — spoke to the significance of the decision. “As a community member of Black Mesa I am grateful for Judge Holt’s decision. For 40 years our sacred homelands and people have borne the brunt of coal mining impacts, from relocation to depletion of our only drinking water source. This ruling is an important step towards restorative justice for Indigenous communities who have suffered at the hands of multinational companies like Peabody Energy. This decision is also precedent-setting for all other communities who struggle with the complexities of NEPA laws and OSM procedures in regards to environmental protection.” 

The decision is only part of the larger effort towards healing, for land and communities. Wahleah reminds us that “we also cannot ignore that irreversible damage of coal mining industries continues on the land, water, air, people and all living things.” 

Women’s Earth Alliance honors the tireless work of women like Wahleah Johns and her Navajo and Hopi colleagues, whose persistence in advocating for environmental sanctity and cultural sovereignty yields game-changing successes like this decision.

WEA Partners in the News

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We do not do our work alone.  Key to WEA’s strategy is collaboration.  Everywhere we go, whether it be Africa, India or the sacred lands of North America, we partner with other organizations to provide the services we provide.  It is through these partnerships that we reach more women and create more sustainable change.
It is an exciting time with so much happening with our colleague organizations.  We want to share the following news items about these amazing leaders in their fields:

  • One of WEA’s partners in Africa, Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari  Maathai of The Greenbelt Movement, is participating in the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15)  this week.  She is advocating on behalf of Africa and on behalf of women.  She’s posting regularly to her website and you can read more by clicking here.
  • A Single Drop is a partner with Women’s Earth Alliance in our work in Africa.  Gemma Bulos, A Single Drop’s Founder, was recognized by The Schwab Foundation as a Social Entrepreneur of the Year.  This is quite an honor and one that is truly deserved.
  • Congratulations to the Barefoot College!  They recently won Half the Sky contest, coordinated by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wudunn, authors of Half the Sky.   We visited the Barefoot College on our recent Learning Delegation.  Half the Sky is spreading the word far and wide about how we all can empower women to change the world.  Check them out on Oprah!
  • Shashi Tyagi, one of the many Indian leaders we met with on our recent Learning Delegation, received the prestigious Dalmiya Award on November 13.  This award, given for outstanding work on environment and natural resources, was presented to Shashi on behalf of GRAVIS.

WEAving Words

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“As indigenous people we’re still fighting for protection, for cultural survival, fighting to protect our sacred and holy places. Although it has always been in the interest of the government to annihilate or assimilate indigenous peoples, we’re still here, and we’re not going anywhere. And we’re continuing to share our traditional ways and traditional knowledge with our young people because it’s important for us to survive, for our cultures to survive, for our futures to survive.

We are all indigenous, no matter where we’re from or what our heritage is, whether we’re from Asia, Africa, South America, North America — it is a matter of recognizing that root and recognizing our ancestry.

The basis of all indigenous cultures is respect and harmony, and living within your environment in a harmonious way, and one that is respectful and understanding that the earth is our Mother and she takes care of us and nurtures us. Everything we need to be a healthy people is here, is provided for us by our Mother Earth. It’s just a matter of recognizing and remembering who we are.

And we also need legislation!”

—Jeneda Benally, Save the San Francisco Peaks Coalition, from our Fall 2009 Conference Call Series: San Francisco Peaks: Legal Advocacy for Sacred Places

Please stay tuned to the Women’s Earth Alliance website to hear a recording of this powerful one-hour conference call featuring Jeneda Benally and Howard Shanker, attorney for the Save the Peaks Coalition.

WEAving the Worlds Call Series: Green Jobs

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On September 29 we held our first conference call in our Fall 2009 WEAving the Worlds Call Series:

The Navajo Green Jobs Victory and the State of U.S. Green Jobs Policy.

21 women leaders at the cutting edge of green jobs policy development participated in a conversation with two fascinating leaders in this field: Elena Foshay of the Apollo Alliance and Wahleah Johns of the Black Mesa Water Coalition. Wahleah spoke about her work on Navajo Green Jobs – click here for an interesting piece about it in the LA Times – and Elena spoke about her work on the federal level and the stimulus package (here is more about that).

This is an area full of opportunities and hopes as well as challenges. Wahleah spoke about the challenging process of getting council leaders to support green jobs because they are so accustomed to a coal-based economy. And Elena described how the real front line of green jobs is at the state/ local / regional level, and she highlighted some of the current green jobs victories at the state levels. Click here to learn more about what the Apollo Alliance has achieved in Oregon.

Interested in learning more? Participating on the next call? Email Caitlin Sislin at caitlin(at)womensearthalliance.org.

A little blogging history

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This isn’t WEA’s first blogging experience.

In September 2008, Women’s Earth Alliance convened a delegation of public interest women attorneys from across the United States for a journey of listening, witnessing, and preparation for action. Through ten days of travel and experiential learning throughout the Southwestern United States, our delegates discovered firsthand the ways in which America’s domestic energy policy sits largely on the backs of Native American lands and communities. Through dialogue and site visits, we learned about challenges facing these communities including coal and uranium extraction poisoning the soil and water, coal-fired power plants polluting the air, and open-pit mining and recreational facilities desecrating sacred mountains.

And we blogged about it! Click here to read our Advocacy Director’s blog about the trip.

Intrigued and want to learn more about this journey? Also be sure to watch the short video by Marlo McKenzie of Sacred Land Film Project, or learn more about the environmental justice leaders we met.