[Marxism] Peabody Energy and Native Americans in Dispute Over Mining in Arizona
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Dec 30 11:17:28 MST 2016
NY Times, Dec. 20 2016
Peabody Energy and Native Americans in Dispute Over Mining in Arizona
By LESLIE MACMILLAN
KAYENTA, Ariz. — The world’s largest coal company, Peabody Energy, is
seeking federal approval to expand its mine on Navajo and Hopi land in
northern Arizona, a move supported by tribal leaders. But many other
tribe members say the expansion would destroy burial grounds and
pre-Columbian ruins and are opposing it in court.
The dispute is the latest episode in a series of longstanding conflicts
involving the treatment of Native American ancestral lands, mining
companies and the federal government. Like the Dakota Access oil
pipeline project, the Kayenta mine dispute pits the rights of tribes
against powerful industry and federal interests.
Peabody built its first mine on this coal-darkened plateau 50 years ago,
and in the process dug up an adjacent American Indian village. The dig
uncovered an “enormous body of knowledge” about ancient Indian tribes
who flourished here three millenniums ago, according to Beth Sutton, a
But Leland Grass, a Navajo horse trainer, called the dig a
“desecration.” He and other tribe members complained that Peabody handed
off 192 sets of human remains to an anthropology professor, destroyed
ancient petroglyphs and archaeological ruins, and warehoused 1.2 million
artifacts at Southern Illinois University, which helped conduct the dig.
Unlike the pipeline project at Standing Rock, however, Peabody’s mine
plan has the backing of the official tribal governments because the
original mine is one of the few sources of jobs and revenue on the
impoverished reservations. Peabody has paid about $50 million per year
to the Navajo and Hopi tribes since 1987, according to a federal report
released in 2012, because the mine was built on tribal land.
But several powerful Navajo nongovernmental organizations, at odds with
their leaders, have joined with the Sierra Club to try to curb the mine
expansion, arguing that the mine harms air and water quality and that
Peabody’s initial plan did not include enough protections for so-called
cultural resources like graves. While they acknowledge that they cannot
stop the mine project, they at least want Peabody and the government to
protect ceremonial sites, ruins and graves in the expanding mine’s path.
To that end, these groups have brought a lawsuit that has forced the
government to undertake a Preservation Act study to identify burial
grounds and sites of archaeological importance. For projects on or near
tribal land, the government must consult with tribes.
The problem, however, say tribal activists and preservation law experts,
is that the permitting system is set up in such a way that it usually
favors the project proponents while giving short shrift to tribal
concerns. Even when “tribal consultation does happen, it’s often not in
the spirit of the law,” said Anne Mariah Tapp, a lawyer who works on
similar cases for other tribes.
In the Peabody case, the tribal plaintiffs who are demanding protection
for Indian sites complain that they have not been included in decision
making as the project moves forward and that they are not privy to the
study that identified which sites might be protected.
They also claim there is a conflict of interest.
The mine fuels a power plant whose majority owner is the permitting
agency, the United States Bureau of Reclamation.
Sandra Eto, environmental protection specialist with the Bureau of
Reclamation, denied any conflict of interest and said the plant’s
ownership would have no bearing on the integrity of the study. She also
said that the study was being kept confidential because of “the
sensitive and confidential nature of the material.”
For Peabody, at stake is a huge federal energy project that powers most
of the Southwest. But the issue is especially fraught because of
persistent questions about how Peabody has dealt with tribal property on
its mine lease area over the past 50 years.
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that
although Peabody’s promotional materials say artifacts are “curated in a
state-of-the-art facility,” a 2002 government audit found that the
collection “needed complete rehabilitation to comply with federal
guidelines for archaeological curation.” Looting was a problem among
Peabody employees, according to government records.
Even though Peabody’s mine has the backing of tribal officials,
government records show a long history of tribal leaders appealing to
the mining company to better respect their land and cultural artifacts.
For example, the federal government “loaned” 192 sets of human remains
to Debra L. Martin — an anthropology professor at Hampshire College in
Amherst, Mass., who is now with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas —
without permission from the tribes, causing outrage. “I was shocked when
I found out,” said Alan Downer, a former historic preservation officer
for the Navajo Nation.
Peabody’s permit requires workers to stop and notify regulators and the
tribe at the first sight of bone or native pottery. But, only three
findings of human remains have been recorded by mining crews since 1983.
Asked about the lack of finds, Gregg Heaton, a Peabody spokesman, said
in an email, “Peabody achieves full regulatory compliance.”
Peabody’s current lease is set to expire in 2019, and the company is
seeking federal permission for a permit that would allow it to continue
mining until 2044. The government’s environmental study is in draft form
and was available for public comment until Dec. 29. Complicating matters
is Peabody’s entry into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which Ms. Sutton said
would not have any bearing on the mine re-permitting or the company’s
commitment to protect native sacred sites and graves.
For many here, the loss of ancestral remains and archaeological ruins is
“What will I have to show my grandchildren once the evidence of our
ancestors is gone?” said Harrison Crank, a Navajo miner and former
30-year Peabody employee. He agreed to participate in the Preservation
Act study, and one late autumn day he led researchers into the scrub
behind his home, pointing out material he thought should be saved from
“This is all I’m trying to tell them: These are the sites where we
prayed, where we buried our dead, where we made pottery a long time
ago,” he said. “Please honor it. Please let it be known.”
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