In a remote area of the western Navajo reservation there is a desolate place known as the former Bennett Freeze. In 1966, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Commissioner Robert Bennett issued an executive order banning all construction, housing and development, preventing human grade drinking water, electricity, roads and infrastructure from approximately 1.5 million acres of land. Originally put in place to bring an end to land conflicts, this law stayed in effect until 2009 when the US Congress passed P.L. 111-18 which formally repealed the Bennett Freeze.
For almost half a century, no improvements of any kind could be made by the people who chose to remain on their sacred land. No repairs on their homes, no new homes, no roads, no water infrastructure, no modern electricity. This is a very harsh environment to live in, and although the Freeze has now been repealed, progress has been devastatingly slow. Most of the crumbling homes are crowded and have been deemed unfit for human habitation.
In addition to their harsh living conditions and economic hardships, people who live in the former Bennett Freeze area also have some of the highest cancer rates in the country due to the air and water pollution as a direct result of the massive mining operations taking place in the area for Plutonium, Coal, and Rare Earth Minerals for many years. These operations continue to this day.
In November of 2010, a Navajo Medicine Man and Peace Builder named Harold Begay and his wife Lillie Redsteer met with Gary Christmas on their land in the Navajo Reservation which is part of the former Bennett Freeze. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss having a Peace event on this sacred land with reverence and ceremony from the Navajo tradition. This meeting was made possible by former AZ State Representative Albert Tom.
Albert Tom is Lillie’s brother and is known for his positive contribution to the Navajo people and his efforts to get the UN’s Indiginous Rights Act passed as law in the State of Arizona. Lillie’s son Robb Redsteer who is also a Peace Builder drove from Flagstaff with Gary to meet Harold and Lillie in person in the Naataanii community where they live and was instrumental in their decision to work together. This was the beginning of something very special.
They vowed that this event would include sacred ceremony promoting Peace for humanity as One Tribe and would also shine a light on the situation in the former Bennet Freeze area in an effort to bring in private contributions and resources for the people in the community. On on April 22, 2011 the first annual Earthday event began on Harold’s land in the former Bennett Freeze and it was an incredible 3-day ceremony and blessing for Mother Earth and all who attended. Something Beautiful happened that weekend, and it continues to grow and evolve to this day.
Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim spoke at the opening ceremony to a mixed crowd. Supporters of the event were made up of from Navajo, Hopi, Yaqui, and people from 7 states who drove cars, trucks, RV’s and motor homes to camp on the land. He spoke of great wisdom handed down from his grandfather and how it was important to wake early in the morning to be the very first to greet the sun, and then related that wisdom to the newly donated Navajo BioDome being the first of its kind, which brings the potential for real sustainable food and energy to the Navajo people in the former Bennett Freeze area.
There was traditional food, Native American Ceremony, song and dance from the Navajo, ceremonial dance from the Yaqui, and drumming songs from the Hopi. All nations and all people truly came together as One Tribe on this sacred land. The seeds of Hope were planted deeply and sincerely on this day. This was a day that had been seen in a vision years earlier. A day signaling the beginning of a new possibility.
In November of 2011, we learned of something incredible. We learned that Harold and Lillie were going to get a new house built on their land. A house with a foundation, a real roof, indoor plumbing, and human grade drinking water lines. But Harold and Lillie were not alone, a total of 4 houses were under construction in the former Bennett Freeze and planning for more are underway. There are plans to pave a main access road which will allow the elderly easier access to medical care and will also encourage continued housing and economic development in the area! This is a huge victory for the small community of Naataanii, one of 9 Navajo communities negatively impacted by the former Bennett Freeze.
After half a century of Bennett Freeze, there’s finally a glimmer of Hope, although many there still doubt that real substantive changes will continue. People just like you and I have a real chance to have an impact in the daily lives of these incredible people. Please consider attending Earthday Naataanii 2012, contributing time, money, clothes, computers, solar power, wind power, organic farming supplies, or whatever resources you may have, as literally everything is needed.
Now that we have seen this situation first hand and have connected with these amazing resilient people, each of us have a chance to make a positive difference in their lives, and to allow them to make a positive difference in ours.
The rest of this incredible story is being written by our actions in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. You are here for a reason, so get involved right now and share your story with us.