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Four Corners

Four Corners

The Hopi believe that the Four Cornerswhere Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona meetis the center of the universe and holds all life on Earth in balance. It also has some of the largest deposits of coal , uranium , and oil shale in the world. According to the National Academy of Sciences the Four Corners is a "national sacrifice area." This ancestral home of the Hopi and Dineh (Navajo) people is the center of the most intense energy development in the United States. Traditional grazing and farm land are being swallowed up by uranium mines, coal mines, and power plants .

The Four Corners, sometimes referred to as the "jointuse area," is comprised of 1.8 million acres (729,000 ha) of high desert plateau where Navajo sheep herders have grazed their flocks on idle Hopi land for generations. In 1972 Congress passed Public Law (PL) 93-531, which established the Navajo/Hopi Relocation Commission who had the power to enforce livestock reduction and the removal of over 10,000 traditional Navajo and Hopi, the largest forced relocation within the United States since the Japanese internment during World War II. Elders of both Nations issued a joint statement that officially opposed the relocation: "The traditional Hopi and Dineh (Navajo) realize that the socalled dispute is used as a disguise to remove both people from the JUA (joint use area), and for non-Indians to develop the land and mineral resources...Both the Hopi and Dineh agree that their ancestors lived in harmony, sharing land and prayers for more than four hundred years...and cooperation between us will remain unchanged."

The traditional Navajo and Hopi leaders have been replaced by Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) tribal councils. These councils, in association with the U.S. Department of the Interior , Peabody Coal, the Mormon Church, attorneys and public relation firms, created what is commonly known as the "Hopi-Navajo land dispute" to divide the joint-use area, so that the area could be opened up for energy development.

In 1964, 223 Southwest utility companies formed a consortium known as the Western Energy and Supply Transmission Associates (WEST) which includes water and power authorities on the West Coast as well as Four Corners area utility companies. WEST drafted plans for massive coal surface mining operations and six coal-fired, electricitygenerating plants on Navajo and Hopi land. By 1966 John S. Boyden, attorney for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Hopi Tribal Council, secured lease arrangements with Peabody Coal to surface mine 58,000 acres (23,490 ha) of Hopi land and contracted WEST to build the power plants. This was done despite objections by the traditional Hopi leaders and the self-sufficient Navajo shepherds. Later that same year Kennecott Copper , owned in part by the Mormon Church, bought Peabody Coal. Peabody supplies the Four Corners' power plant with coal. The plant burned 5 million tons of coal a year which is the equivalent of ten tons per minute. It emits over 300 tons of fly ash and other particles into the San Juan River Valley every day. Since 1968 the coal mining operations and the power plant have extracted over 60 million gal (227 million l) of water a year from the Black Mesa water table , which has caused extreme desertification of the area, causing the ground in some areas to sink by up to 12 ft (3.6 m).

The worst nuclear accident in American history occurred at Church Rock, New Mexico, on July 26, 1979, when a Kerr-McGee uranium tailings pond spilled over into the Rio Puerco. The spill contaminated drinking water from Church Rock to the Colorado River , over 200 mi (322 km) to the west. The mill tailings dam broketwo months prior to the break cracks in the dam structure were detected yet repairs were never madeand discharged over 100 million gal (379 million l) of highly radioactive water directly into the Rio Puerco River. The main source of potable water for over 1,700 Navahoes was contaminated. When Kerr-McGee abandoned the Shiprock site in 1980 they left behind 71 acres (29 ha) of "raw" uranium tailings, which retained 85% of the original radioactivity of the ore at the mining site. The tailings were at the edge of the San Juan River and have since contaminated communities located downstream.

What is the future of the Four Corners area, with its 100 plus uranium mines, uranium mills, five power plants, depleted watershed and radioactive contamination? One
"solution" offered by the United States government is to zone the land into uranium mining and milling districts so as to forbid human habitation.

[Debra Glidden ]



Garrity, M. "The U.S. Colonial Empire Is As Close As the Nearest Reservation." In Trilateralism: The Trilateral Commission and Elite Planning For World Management. Boston: South End Press, 1980.

Kammer, J. The Second Long Walk: The Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1980.

Moskowitz, M. Everybody's Business. New York: Harper and Row, 1980.

Scudder, T., et al. Expected Impacts of Compulsory Relocation on Navajos, with Special Emphasis on Relocation from the Former Joint Use Area Required by Public Law 93-531. Binghamton, NY: Institute for Development of Anthropology, 1979.


Tso, H., and L. Shields. "Navajo Mining Operations: Early Hazards and Recent Interventions." New Mexico Journal of Science 20 (June 1980): 13.

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