Business | Environment

Mary Pember: Coal mine an old and ugly story on Navajo Nation





Mary Annette Pember discusses the purchase of a coal mine by the Navajo Nation:
The recent purchase of the Navajo Mine by the Navajo tribe is a perfect example of the power that fear of economic hardship holds over vulnerable populations.

Fear pushes communities like the Navajo Nation – with its more than 40% unemployment rate and 43% of the population living below the poverty level – to take desperate, short-sighted means to ensure continued income from an industry that effectively results in both their physical and cultural destruction.

That industry is coal, and it is an old, ugly story for the Navajo.

Recently the Navajo Nation paid $85 million to BHP Billiton for a coal mine that, according to the company, is no longer profitable. The back story to this sale is typical of such deals, in which global energy companies reap big profits while tribes pay with the health of their communities for the promise of a few years of reliable income for a small portion of the population.

“Buying the mine from BHP Billiton means responsibility for millions of tons of coal ash waste with toxic metals leaching into our aquifer and the San Juan River,” said Donna House of Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment (CARE), in an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network.

The mine, located near Farmington, New Mexico, employs about 800 people, mostly Navajos. It delivers $41 million annually for the tribe, about one third of the Navajo Nation’s annual general fund.

Get the Story:
Mary Annette Pember: Speak Your Piece: Coal and the Navajo (The Daily Yonder 2/24)