[Marxism] Peabody Energy and Native Americans in Dispute Over Mining in Arizona

Louis Proyect 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

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 
Peabody spokeswoman.

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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