MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

HOMELAND: Four Portraits of Native Action

One of the most critical but least known human rights stories in the United States is the savaging of Native American lands and its impact on Native peoples. Nearly all Indian nations sit on land threatened by ruinous environmental hazards: toxic waste, strip mining, oil drilling, and nuclear contamination. The realities that the tribes live with are bleak, with children playing near radioactive waste, rivers that tribes depend on for food are poisoned, and reservations are completely surrounded by strip mines and smoke stacks spewing noxious fumes.

Homeland, a documentary produced by The Katahdin Foundation, takes a hard look at these realities. It tells the stories of five remarkable Native American activists in four communities who are fighting these "new Indian Wars" - each in his or her own way passionately dedicated to protecting Indian lands against disastrous environmental hazards, preserving their sovereignty, and ensuring the cultural survival of their peoples. With the support of their communities, these leaders are actively rejecting the devastating affronts of multi-national energy companies and the current dismantling of thirty years of environmental laws.

The Homeland storytellers include:
Gail Small, Northern Cheyenne, The Coal Wars, Montana. Small is an attorney and long-time activist leading the fight to protect the Cheyenne homeland from the ruin caused by 75,000 proposed coal bed methane gas wells - wells that threaten to salinate the Tongue River and make much of the reservation unsuitable for farming or ranching.

Evon Peter, Gwich'in - The People and the Caribou Are One, Alaska. Evon Peter is the former Chief of an isolated community that has turned into a potent force fighting the current efforts to drill for oil in the fragile Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. At risk are the Refuge, the caribou that give birth to their young there, and the cultural survival of the Gwich'in people.

Mitchell and Rita Capitan, Eastern Navajo - Yellowcake, New Mexico. Proposed new uranium mining threatens to contaminate the only source of drinking water for 15,000 people on Navajo lands. The Capitans founded ENDAUM (Eastern Navajo Dinéh Against Uranium Mining) to rally their poor and underrepresented community to stand up to the nuclear power industry, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and even the U.S. government.

Barry Dana, Penobscot - A People and Their River, Maine. With his people now unable to eat the fish, harvest the medicinal plants or swim in the Penobscot River they've depended on for 10,000 years, former Chief Barry Dana is battling powerful paper companies and their allies in state government.

There are internal struggles to be overcome as well. For many who live in extreme poverty on reservations that lacking sufficient infrastructure, there is little hope for jobs, and few prospects for a better life. The lure of fast cash from big companies outweighs the long-range promise of environmental and cultural preservation.

From Alaska to Maine, Montana to New Mexico and against some of the United States' most spectacular backdrops, these first-person journeys unfold as our characters demand change, and rally grassroots support against the corporate and government behemoths who are exploiting and befouling tribal lands.

Southwest Research and Information Center greatly appreciates the Katahdin Foundation allowing us to present these new "wars" to our readers. These stories have been, and continue to be, underreported in the mainstream press. It is our hope that this documentary will reach a broader audience, increase understanding of the environmental hazards faced on tribal lands, and increase support for the struggles of these and other Native peoples.

Homeland: Four Portraits of Native Action has won The Fund for Santa Barbara Social Justice Award for Documentary Film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and The Audience Award for Documentary Film.

Homeland was shot on film by cinematographer, Dyanna Taylor; directed by veteran documentary filmmaker, Roberta Grossman, executive produced by Lisa B. Thomas and produced by Katahdin Productions/The Katahdin Foundation. Composer Todd Boekelheide created the music for the film.

SEE THE MOVIE!  Contact your local Public Television station for airtimes.

You can help stop uranium mining on Diné lands by:

  • Writing New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to support publicly the Navajo Nation uranium mining ban: Office of the Governor, 490 Old Santa Fe Trail, Room 400, Santa Fe, NM 87501. Or call his office at: (505) 476-2200.
  • Writing Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., and Navajo Council Speaker Lawrence Morgan, telling them you support the Navajo Nation uranium ban: P.O. Box 9000, Window Rock, AZ 86515.
  • Making a generous, tax-deductible donation to ENDAUM, c/o SRIC, P.O. Box 4524, Albuquerque, NM 87196. (Credit card donations are accepted, please call us at 505/262-1862 for processing, or online through Network for Good.)


Crownpoint, N.M., April 29, 2005. Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., today signed what is believed to be the first Native American tribal law banning uranium mining and milling. With dozens of community members and dignitaries looking on, Shirley signed the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act (DNRPA) of 2005, which was passed by the Navajo Nation Council by a vote of 63-19 on April 19. As amended by the Council during floor debate, the act states, "No person shall engage in uranium mining and processing on any sites within Navajo Indian Country." The law is based on the Fundamental Laws of the Diné, which are already codified in Navajo statutes. The act finds that based on those fundamental laws, "certain substances in the Earth (doo nal yee dah) that are harmful to the people should not be disturbed, and that the people now know that uranium is one such substance, and therefore, that its extraction should be avoided as traditional practice and prohibited by Navajo law."
See Press Release

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