I started watching “Dark Winds”, last night…

I pretty much love it. I don’t miss the rez; just some of the folks I knew. The kind of folks who love this desert land and the people who really are part of it. But, I still have a fair piece of that land handy.

Aside from the mountain ranges which are likely to be populated by tourists or Anglos like me, I have the Caja del Rio. 84,000 acres of mostly nothing but Southwestern-style desert wilderness. Just the other side of our valley. It stretches from here, just West of Santa Fe, all the way over and into Arizona. I love it.

Anyway, “Dark Winds“. Written, directed, produced in the Navajo Nation is a truly accurate representation of life there as I have ever seen. Spoken mostly in Dine…with subtitles. Dead accurate as far as my memory goes. I have to wonder if most Anglos, most Americans will get it. Or care to.

This is a different culture, people living in a different time. Questions and their solutions often don’t match anything in your life’s experience, folks. And as much of a fan as I am of what can be achieved with moving images and foreign languages…or English…the step away from American TV may be too much for too many to get this drama to a second season.

Me? I’m not going to miss an episode. Wouldn’t mind missing some of the commercials; but, that’s also the American kind of TV it is. Casting, acting, every kind of production value is up to standard. Though I manage most of what I watch on my living room’s Big Flat TV on the corner table so as to escape a great deal of the crap we’re told is necessary to fund production of independent stories on the screen. I guess I can put up with it to watch a tale that needs to be seen.

Ed Campbell

“Dark Winds” premiered on TV last night


Michael Moriatis/Stalwart Productions

The natural way to lead a review of “Dark Winds,” which premieres Sunday [last night] on AMC, would be to note that it is a series written, directed and performed largely by Native Americans; set in the Navajo Nation and filmed on location in New Mexico and Arizona; and bringing to screen the tribal police officers Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee from Tony Hillerman’s best-selling mystery novels.

Or you could cut to the chase and just say: Oh thank God, someone finally gave Zahn McClarnon his own television show.

McClarnon, Lakota on his mother’s side, has been one of TV’s most reliable supporting players, improving one show after another in which other people got better billing. He drew notice as the killer Hanzee Dent in “Fargo” and the robot warrior Akecheta in “Westworld,” taking what were to some extent stereotypes of the implacable or noble savage and investing them with real emotion. His best showcase was in the straightforward cowboy-crime drama “Longmire,” in which he gave vivid life to a sardonic, capable, eternally frustrated tribal policeman.

He’s playing a cop again in “Dark Winds” — as he does in a supporting role in another Native American-driven series, the comedy “Reservation Dogs” — but this time he’s at the center of the action. Lt. Joe Leaphorn is in charge of a police station on the Navajo reservation; when a double homicide takes place, the F.B.I. runs the investigation, but all the responsibility and anguish are his. When the lead F.B.I. agent, played by Noah Emmerich, suggests that the murders might get more attention if Leaphorn helped with an off-reservation armored-car robbery, we see the power dynamics from the point of view of the underfunded, understaffed tribal functionary.

Most often, I don’t attempt to improve on reviews published in a reputable source like the TIMES, written by an established critic like Mike Hale. Don’t worry, this is another one of those moments. And I will be watching every episode.

All I might add is “color”…having spent some time on the Res…get back every now and then to see friends living and working in the Navajo Nation. A couple of switches thrown to the opposite pole BITD, I might still be there…instead of down the road a piece in northern NM, Santa Fe County. Read that review. Click the link up top!

Remove uranium contamination from Diné land

The gale-force winds that swept across New Mexico on Friday, driving fires and evacuations, gave Diné residents in a small western New Mexico community an opportunity to demonstrate first hand the danger they live with every day.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) members were in the Red Water Pond Road community, about 20 minutes northeast of Gallup, to hear local input on a controversial plan to clean up a nearby abandoned uranium mine. It was the first visit anyone could recall by NRC commissioners to the Navajo Nation, where the agency regulates four uranium mills…

As commissioners listened to 20 or so people give testimony over several hours Friday afternoon, high winds battered the plastic sheeting hung on the sides of the Cha’a’oh, or shade house, making it hard for some in the audience of many dozens to hear all that was said. “This is like this everyday,” community member Annie Benally told commissioners, mentioning the dust being whipped around outside by the wind. “They say it’s clean, it’s ok. But we have more piles back there and you see it blowing this way.”…

Benally was referring to piles of contaminated radioactive soil and debris at two adjacent abandoned uranium mines. One mine is near enough to the shade house that its gate is visible. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to move some of that waste to a mill site regulated by the NRC, where contaminated groundwater is still being cleaned up. To drive north of Church Rock to the Red Water Pond Road community is to appreciate how close that mill site is to the surrounding community. It sits one mile south of the shade house, on private land but right next to a highway driven every day by local residents.

I came to the Southwest decades ago to work in the Navajo Nation. That didn’t work out. But, before leaving Arizona, I lived in the medical community in Chinle. A center for medical services for the Diné people. Daily radiological numbers in many locations in the Navajo Nation were higher than anything I’d seen in my lifetime.

Everyone recognizes that. Regional and national politicians know this. They do little or nothing to offer these people a safer life.

Native Americans dying from COVID twice as fast as Anglos


Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune
Funeral in Standing Rock Sioux Nation

American Indians and Alaskan Natives are dying at almost twice the rate of white Americans, according to analysis by APM Research Lab shared exclusively with the Guardian.

Nationwide one in every 475 Native Americans has died from Covid since the start of the pandemic, compared with one in every 825 white Americans and one in every 645 Black Americans. Native Americans have suffered 211 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 121 white Americans per 100,000.

The true death toll is undoubtedly significantly higher as multiple states and cities provide patchy or no data on Native Americans lost to Covid. Of those that do, communities in Mississippi, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas have been the hardest hit.

The findings are part of the Lab’s Color of Coronavirus project, and provide the clearest evidence to date that Indian Country has suffered terribly and disproportionately during the first year of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

Here in New Mexico, this is a daily story. Sometimes, more. Even folks like me – who has a “used to be” connection with one of the First Nations in the region still hears from folks on the res. Reading reports in local press, I search, first, for the Indian Health Service.

We all think we know why this is so, wholly or partly. Doesn’t mean anything useful is being done. Yet. On the local, statewide scale? Yes. By the Feds? Damned if I know.

Planting hope in the Navajo Nation

Older generations on the Navajo Nation have passed down stories of scourges, resilience — and survival. New generations are bringing the tales to life.

Four miles down Farm Road, just off U.S. Route 491 in northern Navajo, a group of young Diné used what was left of daylight in early May to plant onions and potatoes on Yellow Wash Farm.

As the novel coronavirus stretched its way through Navajoland, leaving a trail of heartbreak and uncertainty, the four Navajo men, a mixture of family and friends from Shiprock, picked up their seeds and broke the earth with their shovels.

By month’s end, the Navajo Nation would have the highest per-capita infection rate in the country, surpassing even New York state. The outbreak cut a swath across the vast reservation, from outposts in Arizona to the mesas and high desert in northwest New Mexico, where Shiprock, or Naatʼáanii Nééz — the largest Navajo community — became a hotspot seemingly overnight.

I came to the Southwest, to the Navajo Nation, three decades ago plus or minus. If I’d’ve stayed, it was likely at the time I would have gone to work for the Indian Health Service. Using my geek skills.

But, my erratic personal life intervened and I ended up in northern New Mexico. That’s not important, now, to y’all. The story of these folks trying to keep their history and culture sorted…and improve the lives of folks around them…is truly important. So, click that link up above and RTFA.

NM Governor fights for COVID-19 aid for tribal nations

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham raised alarms with President Donald Trump Monday about “incredible spikes” in coronavirus cases in Navajo Nation, warning that the virus could “wipe out” some tribal nations, according to a recording of a call between Trump and the nation’s governors obtained by ABC News.

“I’m very worried, Mr. President,” Governor Lujan Grisham said, as she followed up on a request she made to the Department of Defense last Wednesday for a 248-bed U.S. Army combat support hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Grisham told Trump she had not yet received a response.

“The rate of infection, at least on the New Mexico side — although we’ve got several Arizona residents in our hospitals — we’re seeing a much higher hospital rate, a much younger hospital rate, a much quicker go-right-to-the-vent rate for this population. And we’re seeing doubling in every day-and-a-half,” she said.

Wow, that’s something,” the president replied.

She added: “And it could wipe out those tribal nations.”

New Mexican tribal nations waited almost a week for an answer to Governor Lujan’s request for aid from the Feds. Trump got back to her this afternoon [Tuesday, 31st], saying, he’d approved a “field hospital” for the Navajo Nation and others in the state.

That was announced by the governor, Tuesday afternoon. No one, yet, has any info if this is supposed to be the Combat Support Hospital in Albuquerque…or something else.

Have a mellow, thoughtful holiday

Remembering the folks I lived and worked with in the Navajo Nation. Especially – this morning – the brothers I used to shuck and jive with hanging out in front of Basha’s. And most especially a hard-working freedom fighter I was fortunate enough to engage when he and his wife were living in the Chinle neck of the prairie – Russell Means. We miss your thoughts as well as your deeds.

Who-smiles-like-a-bear

Navajo Nation rejects award ceremony remarks by the Fake President

❝ A Navajo Nation Council delegate ripped President Trump after the president called Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) “Pocahontas” during an event honoring Navajo Code Talkers.

In a statement, Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty said Trump’s “careless” comment is the “latest example of systemic, deep-seated ignorance of Native Americans and our intrinsic right to exist and practice our ways of life.”

“The intentional disregard of the historical trauma of Pocahontas as a sexual assault survivor directly resulting from colonization is disturbing,” she added.

Trump not only offends the civilized world as an example of a Fake President, he does a damned good job of showing folks how an insensitive bigot behaves when let out into public events.

Climate change reducing habitable land in the Navajo Nation


Click to enlargeFour Corners Hikes

A third of the Navajo Nation is now covered with sand dunes — the result of climate change…Roads, corrals, entire homes have been buried in sand, creating what President Obama calls “climate change refugees.”

Thirty-foot-tall sand dunes the color of flower pots flank the road to the now dry Tolani Lake on the Navajo Nation.

At one time, streams flooded the road. Today it’s sand. The community has frequently bulldoze the dunes, but they creep back as much as 40 feet a year.

“It’s a losing battle, unfortunately,” said Margaret Hiza Redsteer, a research scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey. “They have to plow the road quite frequently to keep the road open so they can get in and out to their house.”…

Hiza Redsteer said the Navajo are not simply victims of something happening hundreds of miles away. Many Navajos work at the largest coal-fired power plant in the West, on the reservation itself. The EPA said such power plants are responsible for almost 30 percent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to climate change.

When you add up sand, heat, water scarcity and dust storms you can see from space, you start to hear terms like “uninhabitable.” That’s the word Carletta Chief used to describe parts of the Navajo Nation. She’s a member of the tribe and an assistant professor at the University of Arizona…

For the Navajo, the land where you are born is sacred. And generations ago the federal government allotted each family a parcel, a permanent homeland.

“And even to move from one community to the next is nearly impossible because your ancestral land is where your family has lived for many, many years,” Carletta Chief said.

Navajo ties to nature are beyond the experience of most Anglos. When the spirit voices of your ancestors call to you in high desert winds, it’s tough and frustrating to try to grow crops with no water where those same ancestors survived for centuries.