Disasters warn man of Spirit's law, says Hopi
Disasters warn man of Spirit's law, says Hopi

By George Hardeen
Western Bureau 1990

HOTEVILLA, Ariz. - When black bears began showing up in Albuquerque, Window Rock and Flagstaff this summer, Hopi interpreter Thomas Banyacya didn't see hungry and thirsty wildlife. He saw warnings.

When the Chinese government began shooting down student demonstrators in Beijing two days after Banyacya's 80th birthday last June, he didn't see a squashed struggle for democracy as did the rest of the world. He saw the likely outcome of environmental degradation.

With each catastrophe the world witnesses - plane crashes, earthquakes, tornadoes, oil spills, even governmental upheavals of Indian tribes - Thomas Banyacya sees a warning that people need to clean up the polluted mess they've made of the world and return to living within the natural laws known to the native people of antiquity and the elders of today.

"To the native people, the law of the Great Spirit is the law of the land," Banyacya says.

Since 1948, after a four-day long meeting when he was appointed as a spokesman and message-carrier for Hopi religious leaders, Banyacya has taken the same message and warning throughout the United States and throughout the world with unwavering consistency. All day Sunday, he met again in a kiva here with some 35 other like-minded, concerned people who see the world headed toward an environmental doom of man's own making.

Though small, the group was a mix of Hopi, Navajo, Chicano and Anglo individuals and activists who say they intend to make things happen and who support traditional people's use of the land. The wide-ranging discussion dealt with a variety of issues from impacts of Peabody Coal Co.'s 20 years of mining on Black Mesa and its planned expansion, the air pollution of the Grand Canyon by the Navajo Generating Station, to the taking of Indian lands by the federal government.

Among the visitors was Rex Tilousi, vice chairman of the Havasupai Tribe who spoke of his tribe's opposition to planned uranium mining in the Grand Canyon.

Energy Fuels Nuclear offered the Supais $250,000 to stop their opposition to the proposed mine, Tilousi said, but the tribe said no.

"If we sign their piece of paper we're going to sign away our religion," he said. "We have come to learn that the people we trusted are now turning against us."

David Lujan is director of the Tonantzin Land Institute, an Albuquerque advocacy group concerned with threats to Indian and Chicano land and water rights.

He said it was up to the younger generation to pick up where elders have left off. He added that the moral arguments that native people have a right to their own lands have been made loudly and clearly.

"The bottom line is this: whenever the local people are ready, we as an organization are ready to support them," Lujan said.

Because of his own positions through the years, Banyacya, who spoke throughout most of the day, is not without his detractors within his tribe.

Hopi Chairman Ivan Sidney, for example, faults Banyacya for taking stands contrary to the tribe's - in particular on relocation - and for accepting money to continue his worldwide travels.

Since the passage of the 1974 Relocation Act, Banyacya has never minced words that from a perspective of the old Hopis, a white man's law that raises boundaries between native people and forces native people off land they've occupied is an attempt to wrest land away from other native people.

This is done, it's quite obvious to him, in order to get to the wealth contained within Mother Earth. It's such greed and desire for material comfort, Banyacya warns, that has gotten the world into the crises it now sees over and over.

Further, he says, it is Indian people who suffer. He calls the 15 cents a ton Peabody paid for coal last year "just crazy." "That's just robbing," Banyacya says. "The BIA is supposed to know. The (Hopi Tribal) Council is supposed to know."

Banyacya is one of the few Hopis who is opposed to relocation of Navajos, making his argument in a way that blends seamlessly into the rest of his philosophy.

He is pleased by his friendship with Katherine Smith and Kee Shay, two longtime Navajo relocation opponents who attended Sunday's meeting.

"I'm very happy that Navajo people are still holding on strongly," Banyacya says.

Unruffled by criticism from his own people, he calmly says he's not held a job since 1948, when he committed himself to carry the Hopi message to the world. Despite being told by some that his services are no longer needed, he perseveres. The crises is far from over, he observes.

"We're all going to have to work together," he says, "the world is in trouble right now."



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