Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Navajo artists express experience with Gold Mine spill

Navajo artist Venaya Yazzie wrote the Diné expression – Tó éí ííná – beside a photograph of a friend sullenly looking out on the tainted San Juan River in the days after the Gold King Mine spill. It means “Water is Life,” and for the indigenous tribes affected by the mine blowout in August, the words sum up months of confusion, fear and sadness surrounding the health of critical southwest waterways. On Aug. 5, the Environmental Protection Agency breached the portal of the mine north of Silverton, sending an estimated three million gallons of orange mine wastewater down the Animas and San Juan rivers, and through 215 miles of the Navajo Nation. “The river, for desert people, is everything – it’s gold,” Yazzie said. “Mentally. Spiritually. Physically. It covers the whole human spirit of life.” The incident elicited strong feelings from those living on tribal land, from farmers who depend on its waters for crops to residents with a spiritual attachment to the river. In March, Navajo President Russell Begaye claimed Navajo suicides spiked just three weeks after the spill, alleging 15 Navajos had taken their own lives in the eight-month time span. Yazzie said the suffering has yet to subside and likely won’t anytime soon. “It plays into a legacy of trauma for the Navajo people,” Yazzie said. Fearing her fellow tribal members are spiritually broken, Yazzie called on artists throughout the Navajo Nation to take their experience with the Gold King spill and put it on canvas. On Sunday, backdropped by a surging, discolored Animas River, Navajo artists gathered under the pavilion at Rotary Park in Durango to showcase eight works as part of the exhibition, “On Behalf of Water.”...more

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