This document was compiled by Black Mesa Indigenous Support through years of working with families on Black Mesa. It is an extensive overview of what it means to do on land support work and what to expect, bring and how to be prepared.
This is required reading for guests of Black Mesa.
Please read as you prepare for your visit with a host family on Black Mesa. The desert is a place worlds away from that to which most of us are accustomed, and is governed by physical laws that cannot be ignored. It’s also super important that you understand and respect the ways of the communities with whom you’ll be staying. This guide covers what to expect, how to be adequately prepared, cultural sensitivity, code of conduct, health & safety, and legal issues. You are responsible for your own survival, safety, and comfort.
Please print & bring this guide with you during your stay on Black Mesa and make sure EVERYONE in your group does as well. Be sure to sign the registration form found at the end and turn it in to the host organization to help keep you safe, accounted for, and so that we have your emergency contact info in case it is needed.
If you’ve got any questions, comments, or concerns please bring them to Black Mesa Indigenous Support, to regional coordinators during large caravans, and to families as necessary.
A heart-felt thank you for your generous support and have a great time on Black Mesa!
INTENTIONS & EXPECTATIONS
People come to Black Mesa out of a willingness to be supportive, to work and not expect anything in return. Please reflect on your intentions for coming to Black Mesa. Coming to the reservation should not be an escape for your problems. Please do not bring them here. Residents do not need our emotional instabilities or problems adding to everything else. This is not the place for seeking knowledge of their religion and sacred ways. If you are not prepared physically, emotionally, and materially, then consider coming back when you are ready. People who come and unselfishly contribute their time are recognized and appreciated. If you are respectful, listen more than you speak, and come prepared then you are welcome. This means that you are required to bring your own food, gas money, and winter or summer gear are musts. Families appreciate the support from self reliant, responsible people that are willing to stay with them, help maintain daily life, and keep up the resistance.
Daily living on Black Mesa is no easy task and you must be willing and able to RISE VERY EARLY and work on what is needed. Many people are not accustomed to the lifestyle which is very different from the average everyday American living. It can be rough and physically demanding especially in the first days as you acclimate to the 7,000ft elevation.
You will be staying with traditional families, and most are elders. Each family lives very far away from one another and the rough, dirt roads that can become impassible in wet weather. Stores, gas stations, and other services are many miles away and most are without running water or electricity. You may be assisting with herding sheep throughout the vast canyon-lands, chopping and hauling firewood, hauling water, digging outhouses, cooking, cleaning, staying with children and elders, repairing homes, vehicles, sheds, and roads. Massage therapists and holistic health care is also very much appreciated. Occasionally you may be driving people to a relatives home, to meetings or helping with errands, planting and harvesting corn, melons, and squash, shearing sheep in the springtime, and possibly witness and document harassment. You should bring as many tools that you can for these tasks. Label them well if you don’t plan to donate them. The support organization works to fit you with a family according to skills and needs.
You will have an opportunity to share some words about yourself in the registration form at the end.
Since establishing a routine is demanding on the host family, supporters are encouraged to stay a minimum of three weeks. If you are not able to make a three week + time commitment, please check in with BMIS about organizing a work crew to stay a minimum of several days.
If you are interested in staying with a family at Black Mesa but are concerned about being totally self-reliant, consider asking people in your community to help sponsor your trip. If you do that you must never fundraise in the name of Black Mesa or Big Mountain, but instead be clear that it is for yourself to get there. Ask us for fundraising guidelines and donation solicitation letter. Upon your return you can do a report-back presentation about your stay on Black Mesa with your sponsors & your community. This is a great way to continue a show of support for the resistance communities Black Mesa.
GETTING THERE AND ORIENTATION
You must confirm with BMIS, or your host organization, in advance about setting your arrival date, so that a family (or families if you are coming with a group) can be notified and arrangements can be made for someone to be your road guide, or pick you up if need be. People do get lost on the myriad of back country dirt roads.
Most people will pass through Flagstaff, Arizona prior to heading to Black Mesa. Flagstaff is a fairly large town and you can find pretty much anything you need there: groceries, health foods, camping gear, thrift stores, a local infoshop, coffeehouses, and more. There is no available housing in Flagstaff but there are hotels as well as hostels which are cheaper but are not always vacant (especially on a moments notice and to Americans). There are two great hostels downtown that are cheaper than hotels. The Dubeau Hostel at 19 West Phoenix, Flagstaff, AZ (928) 774-6731; and the Grand Canyon Hostel: http://www.grandcanyonhostel.com at 19 1/2 South San Francisco Street, Flagstaff 1-888-442-2696 • (928) 779-9421.
Flagstaff is surrounded by National Forest, where you can camp anywhere for free (though be prepared for cold temperatures at night even in the summer and below freezing and heavy snow fall in the winter. The elevation is 7,000 feet at the base of a huge sacred mountain. ) For specific camping information, call the USFS (United States Forest Service): (928)774-1147. You could also try the ‘couch surfing’ websites & groups.
If families have arranged to pick you up in a border town then it is appropriate to offer them gas money to cover cost of gas because they are driving long distances with wear and tear on their vehicles from the rough back-country roads. Please pay them adequately.
KNOW THE STORY OF BLACK MESA & THE CURRENT SITUATION:
For nearly four decades (since 1974) Dineh residents, most of whom are elders, are still resisting forced removal and living under restrictive relocation laws. Despite years of resistance against the federal government to repeal the relocation law, US-backed laws continue to deny the Dineh the right to live on their homeland as they see fit and to preserve their traditional way of life. And people’s lives are impacted by the coal mining.
It can add additional stress to families for guests to continually be asking them about the history of this very old & intense struggle. There may be pain & suffering around the weight of impending relocation. We come here to work and do not expect anything in return. Listen more than you speak, and allow them to initiate the subject matter. Frequently asked questions can be answered by reading the material posted on the Black Mesa Indigenous Support website.
Being respectful and responsible is a must, as the families on the land will have to deal with the repercussions of any negligent actions. We understand that each of us comes to this work from different communities, life experiences, and political ideologies. We see our work as part of the larger struggles for liberation of all oppressed people. In order to practice liberation, we must exercise complete respect of everyone’s race, class, gender, sexuality, age, or physical/mental ability. Our work is grounded in respect for each other and for Mother Earth.
Please see BMIS’s Principles of Unity http://blackmesais.org/2011/08/bmis-points-of-unity/
We at BMIS believe that anti-oppression work is vital to community organizing and to building a movement to eliminate the exploitation of people and the planet. We strive to maintain the perspective and practice of anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, and anti-oppression generally. We commit to creating and promoting an anti-racist culture in our organization, with all the supporters that we help assist to Black Mesa, and practice anti-racism in our personal and political work. Racism is the single most critical barrier to building effective coalitions for social change. Race permeates every aspect of our social existence, and has a major influence on the way that identities, institutions, and society as a whole are shaped. Racial inequality is a fundamental characteristic of our social order: often interlocked with other systems of oppression like class, patriarchy, and xenophobia that affects the organization and distribution of social resources, including power, privilege, and wealth. People of color have been targeted and have been living under centuries of oppression. The struggle on Black Mesa is but one example of a result of racism and continued racist policies.
White people have privileges and learned racist thought patterns and actions that are not even considered to be such from their own perspectives. Often because white people are frequently complacent about injustice that doesn’t affect them directly, anger or aggressive action by a person of color may surface to bring attention to a problem that a white person is ignoring. Do not be sensitive or defensive if you are not readily accepted. If you feel unsafe, leave the situation. Part of the harm that racism does is that it forces people of color to be wary and mis-trustful of all white people, just as sexism forces women to mistrust men. People of color have to deal with racism every day, often from unexpected quarters, not knowing when a white friend, co-worker, police officer, doctor, or passerby may discriminate, act hostile, or say something offensive. They have likely been hurt in the past by white people they thought they could trust, and therefore they may make statements about all white people. One must remember that although you may want to be trustworthy, trust is not the issue. White people are not fighting racism to gain trust by people of color. Trust builds over time through visible efforts to be allies and fight racism. Rather than trying to be trustworthy, one needs to be more active, less defensive, and put issues of trust aside.
BMIS encourages each of us to seek to stay continually devoted in searching for various ways of understanding and learning about systems of oppression and challenging the power structures which support those systems and create injustices. It is important to come here working towards ensuring that each of our words and actions support the inherent value and dignity of everyone.
WAYS TO BE HELPFUL TO A FAMILY
You will be needed to do everyday things such as: herd sheep, chop & haul firewood, haul water, cook, clean, take care of children and elders, repair homes, plant and harvest corn, and witness and document harassment. Massage may be much appreciated. Don’t try to impress anyone while working. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you have little or no experience doing these things. Many supporters don’t come from rural lifestyles and it takes time to adjust. Families and BMIS are here to help you with these things as well.
Again, you should ask a resident how you should help and what kind of work you can do. Many times, and especially with the elders, they won’t come right out and tell you what to do. Don’t stand around and wait for someone to tell you what to do. Self motivation is a must! It is GOOD to ask how to help and then do the job well and completely.
- Use everything as sparingly as possible and use only what you need. Do not waste water, fuel, wood, food, etc.
- Be mindful of how much wood you are using for heating and cooking and chop enough wood for you and the family as well. Chop wood only from a woodpile! (NOT a coral, fence, or any other area). If you have never chopped wood before, it’s OK to ask how to do it or otherwise you will end up breaking a families’ only ax or maul; a common uh-oh. Worse, you may end up hurting yourself. There are certain ways to chop wood that make it easier, like not cutting into knots in the wood, or how to place a piece about to be cut. Please replace axe handles if you break them.
- Conserve as much water as possible! This cannot be emphasized enough. Families have to travel long distances on the back country roads to get their water. Water is very scarce thanks to Peabody Coal, and over-consumptive lifestyles. Water must be hauled continually, which takes time and resources. Many guests come from homes that have running water and tend to use much more than actually needed. Watch the families to see how they do it. Be especially aware of this if there is a group of you visiting families. Offer to either restock the water from existing barrels or replace it yourselves.
DAILY WAY OF LIFE ROUTINE
- Again, wake up early, take the ashes from the stove out, (ash is taken out every morning to the ash pile outside before lighting the morning fire) then start a fire. If you are in ‘your own’ hogon or house, the family will be able to see the smoke coming out of the stovepipe and won’t worry about your well-being.
- Always wash your hands first thing in the morning, before handling food or dishes, after using the outhouse, etc. The hand-wash is usually located right near the door. Once the water is murky, take it outside and disperse it on the ground evenly so the animals do not drink the soapy water.
- Keep yourself clean and well-groomed. Try to keep offensive body odor to a minimum. Take sponge/bucket baths whenever possible. Wash out your socks and clothes often. It is good to keep your hair brushed and tied back. If you have dreadlocks, keep them tied back or under a scarf if possible.
- Respect your camp by always keeping your space clean, cleaning up after yourself wherever you go.
- Always put things back right where you found them.
- Use wood only from the wood pile, and only after asking permission to do so. Use wood sparingly.
- If you use water, refill it. Double check after others in your party to make sure that these things really are getting done.
- Use the outhouses unless you’re sheep herding or there is not one. Do not relieve yourself near or in front of people or anywhere near any homes, sheds, corrals, or gardens. And families know. They are professional trackers!
- If you are a couple and have been having relationship difficulties, please leave your problems at home.
- Do not argue or fight around the family. It puts too much strain on people.
- Please be harmonious. Avoid gossip and don’t participate in it. Disruptors often spread rumors to confuse and divide families. Keep in mind that the ever-increasing stress of ongoing colonialism and mining breaks down social structures and creates disharmony between all relations. Do not contribute to it, and be objective. Take rumors that people tell you with a grain of salt.
- Do not act on any rumors unless you know they have been confirmed. If you have a concern about someone(s), please speak directly with them.
- Bring all questions, comments, and concerns to the support group so that any issues can be addressed.
- It is not your place as a guest in this community to judge anyone. Because of livestock impoundments, familial relocation, and a loss of many aspects of traditional life, many Dineh may no longer be self-sufficient and have been forced to work at Peabody. For some who wish to remain with their parents on their ancestral homelands rather than living as far as hundreds of miles away, it may be necessary for them to work at Peabody’s coal mine to feed their families.
- Be sensitive to the land around you. Walk gently on the land. Try extra hard not to trample plants or cause unnecessary erosion.
SHEEPHERDING is often part of the daily routine.
Respect the sheep. The Dineh believe the sheep/goats are a sacred gift given to them by the Creator, and they must be respected as such. Do not yell, get angry at, or hurt the animals in any way. Respect them as part of the family. Sheep herding is the basic duty of supporters on the land. They must be herded every day, rain or shine, which involves taking them out in the morning (before dawn in the summer time) and with many herds, walking with them until the afternoon/evening while they eat (5-8 hours per day, 4-8 miles per day). You must be very responsible with them and take care not to lose any sheep. When herding sheep, wear decent shoes or boots and wool socks in the winter, and bring some water, snacks, emergency survival gear, and a journal or book with you. **Supporters can get lost when they leave the home-site alone for sheepherding. Later in this guide (see the ‘What to bring’ section, there will be a list of what emergency survival gear to bring with you sheepherding.
If you take a nap out there and are not paying attention, you may lose the sheep and have to spend hours searching for the sheep to bring them home. Losing sheep really stresses the families out, because the sheep are the greatest source of wealth for the Dineh, providing them with food, wool, and money if they need it. Sometimes a few will wander off by themselves, so you must watch them carefully. They pretty much know where they are going, herding themselves. You are just guiding them in certain directions more then anything. It’s a big no-no to run the herd (especially when their belly’s are full). Remember, if you walk fast, they will walk fast! You can stay some distance behind, or around them. It’s far easier on you if you watch the overall general direction of the herd rather than each one individually.
Know where the goats are because they are faster. Watch the herd to see which ones tend to be in the front and which ones tend to be the laggers. After awhile you will get familiar with the terrain, (keep your head up, getting to know the terrain, the mesas, and other landmarks), you’ll also get to know the herd’s regular routes. When it is time to go home, just circle way around them to turn them around. (Whatever direction you are in they will generally go the opposite.) The SHEEP will herd YOU home! It’s good to study their chon’ and footprints, knowing the fresh from hours or days old. This way if any are ever lost, you will know what to look for. Some also wear bells so you can hear them.
During lambing seasons (late fall, midwinter, and early spring), you must watch the pregnant mothers carefully and when they go into labor in the field, stay with them. If they are very pregnant, you may want to consider not taking them too far away from the home-site. Families will let you know. Tie something bright in the tree to mark where the birthing mother is as well as to keep predators away. You can tell she’s in labor because she’ll start laying down and getting up a lot, she’ll go off by herself, and she’ll be breathing heavy/having contractions. An hour or two after she’s given birth (after afterbirth has come out and she’s cleaned the baby), you must bring the baby back to the corral, with the mom following RIGHT behind you and the baby. Never touch the butt, above the tail, or head of the baby, nor hold it too close to you, as the mom will reject it. Carry it only by its legs or under its chest; let the mom sniff it now and again. (Possibly every 5 to 15 feet.) Make sure she can see her baby or she won’t come with you. You may have to hold the baby away from your body. If she absolutely won’t come, go home and get someone to help you.
BASIC TIPS FOR RESPECTING TRADITIONS:
There are many things that you must know prior to staying with a family. The struggle involves a highly structured, principled indigenous society. It is essential that all supporters understand that the Dineh & Hopi customs must be respected at all times, even if you do not understand them. All of the information listed within this document can feel intimidating; however, it is not expected of you to memorize all the traditions and taboos mentioned herein. Much of this information is common-sense and deals with respect.
The leadership and decision-making process of the elders and their family has worked for them for centuries. Do not come to their community and impose your ideas of the right way to do things, even if they have been successful for other purposes. It is crucial that all supporters accept and be comfortable with traditional leadership. Many supporters come from an anti-authoritarian background. Always remember that you are a guest here. As a guest, it is not our place to come in and make plans unless you’ve been asked to.
- Please be flexible in your schedule (ie: what you will be doing each day) and be willing to listen.
- Many Elders speak in their traditional languages and do not speak or understand English, so good listening skills and the ability to pay close attention and understand nonverbal communication is crucial.
- Due to lack of understanding, preparation, or communication, a supporter with truly good intentions can sometimes make big mistakes. Good intentions alone can fall short. Families and elders have also been taken advantage of and hurt by well-meaning individuals and support efforts; and indigenous peoples have been living under assault for generations and may have many reasons to be suspicious of outsiders so don’t expect to be treated as “the great peace-worker to the rescue.”
- The ability to be humble and low-key is a must.
- Be polite, gentle, and well mannered at all times. Do not question peoples’ reasons for doing things you do not understand unless you feel unsafe. There may be some religious significance that is not to be spoken about.
- Please refrain from asking personal questions. In most traditional societies, ‘intelligence’ is measured by ones’ ability to learn and understand through observation, rather than ones’ ability to ask ‘smart’ questions.
- Always wait until someone is finished speaking (this is really important–>) and give a few moments of pause often after someone speaks. Your question may be answered before you know it. And some people will not speak of there isnt the proper space for them to do so.
- Listen more than you speak. If you see another supporter being intrusive or rude, pull them to the side and talk with them about it in a firm but non shame-based manner. Don’t leave it for the family to have to deal with.
- At the same time, you should ask a resident how you should help and what kind of work you can do. Many times, and especially with the elders, they won’t come right out and tell you what to do. Don’t stand around and wait for someone to tell you what to do. See what needs done and take initiative. Self motivation is a must! If you do not know how to do something then it is GOOD to ask how to help and then do the job well and completely.
- Always use everything as sparingly as possible and use only what you need. Do not waste water, fuel, food, etc.
You’re most likely going to stay with a Dineh family so the following info focuses on Dineh taboos. The Dineh have many taboos and something you may do that has no significance to you may be hurtful or be a huge taboo to them. Breaking these taboos can bring hardships.
- Never take wood from or touch a tree struck by lightning. Do not disturb tree roots or cut live trees. Please ask first about these sorts of things.
- Always greet everyone with a very gentle handshake and “Ya’at’eeh” (hello).
- Do not stare at people, especially straight in the eyes.
- Hugs and touching are rarely done, so don’t initiate it and if someone hugs you, hug back lightly.
- Do not point your finger. Rather, point with your lips.
- Do not use rude or foul language (most especially in a hogon).
- Have respect for everybody in the family, the elders, the middle-aged and the children. Treat everyone with kindness. Respect everyone and yourself by not yelling, arguing, or fighting with people.
- Be sure to wake up and start your day before dawn -this is very important!! Please do not sleep in or be lazy!
- Wake up, take the ashes from the stove out, (ash is taken out every morning to the ash pile outside before lighting the morning fire) then start a fire. If you are in ‘your own’ hogon or house, the family will be able to see the smoke coming out of the stovepipe and won’t worry about your well-being.
- Don’t make a lot of noise, especially at night, or in nearby places such as in border towns, in stores, parking lots.
- Don’t draw attention to yourself when doing errands in town. Please be discreet and be mindful when you are refueling because there may only be a couple gas pumps for everybody.
- Always ask before playing drums, guitars, stereos, etc., or play them out of earshot.
- Whistling, clapping, and playing wind instruments at night is taboo, so ask. Each family is different.
- If you say that you are going to do something, follow through with it!
- If you ask how someone’s vehicle is running, then be prepared to help with the matter.
- If you really feel compelled to take a picture, always ask beforehand. People may be uncomfortable having pictures taken of themselves, their homes, their sheep, etc. Never take pictures of drawings of shrines, ruins, ceremonial objects, anything relating to Dineh spirituality. Do not exploit them. We are not there to be tourists.
- If someone shares traditional knowledge with you such as personal stories, sacred ways, etc, it is for YOU and YOU alone to know (unless otherwise specified).
- It’s best not to arrive at someones’ house after sundown unless you have to or if prior arrangements have been made. It’s also easy to get lost at night.
- Avoid traveling at night on the reservation. If you do, always bring a shovel and extra warmth with you. Avoid traveling through other peoples’ camps or home sites.
- Avoid picking up hitchhikers and hitchhiking alone, it worries the elders.
- It’s taboo to leave your hair lying around. Bury it or burn it in the fire.
- Never ever bring or use alcohol on the reservation. Do not smoke around people, especially elders. Do not brag about your drug stories. Be careful of people asking you to get them alcohol or any alcohol-related products or drugs. Do not indulge them, even if you feel pressured. If someone shows up with alcohol wanting to share it with you, refuse it. Alcohol has been used as a very effective tool for destroying many, many lives and breaking down spirit and culture. It really upsets the elders if alcohol is used.
- Carry yourself according to the traditional laws. Listen and Respect what the people on the land tell you to do. If there is anything you are not sure about, ask an elder if it’s O. K.
- If someone tells you not to do something or not to go to a certain place, even if you do not know the reason why, respect that.
- Things that have been left by the ancestors such as pottery shards and ruins are to be completely left alone. Absolutely do not touch or disturb these any pottery shards you come across or disturb any ruins, abandoned structures, or shrines you encounter. Leave everything as you find it.
- For people who are not indigenous, do not touch or bring bones, feathers, antlers, horns, claws, fur, or other objects that you may find, even if you think no one will know. If you have any of these things then please keep them tucked away.
- When in Dine’tah, do as the Dineh ask, regardless of your personal desires, unless you feel unsafe in a situation.
- Ceremonial sites, such as sweat lodges, sun dance areas, and offering places are private and are not to be disturbed or entered unless you are in a ceremony with the family.
- Women on your moon: Do not participate in ceremonies, sweat lodges, etc. Do not go near ceremonial places (sweat lodge sites, Sun Dance arbor). Stay away from the cornfield during this time. Be discreet about it. You may not be able to be around the community food. Do not take the food over to the ceremony (have someone else take it) and first ask a Dineh woman if it’s O. K. for you to help cook for the ceremony. This is not a prejudice, it is tradition to be honored.
- The hogan is the traditional Dineh house and ceremonial space. It is highly sacred, representing much about Dineh way of life. It is built with prayers, and though sometimes it may seem as only a living space, it is always a sacred space.
- The hogan should be entered as if entering a church. Be respectful of all that you do inside and how you treat the hogan. When you enter the hogan, walk to the left and greet everyone inside, always walking clockwise.
- If you are asked to undertake a project involving the hogan, do it well and with consideration and do not abandon the project.
- Animals are not allowed inside the hogan.
- You must keep the hogan tidy at all times and offer to clean, sweep, wash and put dishes away, etc.
- The Dineh way of life is very private, very sacred, and is not talked about or shared freely. Do not come to Black Mesa expecting to learn spiritual teachings or participate in ceremonies. If people wish to share, they will do so. When the family is having a ceremony, give them their space, so not to intrude. You may be asked to help cook for the ceremony.
- Respect the family’s space when butchering sheep. Do not gawk or make rude comments. If you are asked to help butcher and it strongly goes against your beliefs, you are not obligated to do it. Politely decline.
- If you are offered food, take only what you will eat and finish it all. Do not waste food. Afterwards, give thanks. If you are offered meat and do not wish to eat it, refuse it politely.
- Absolutely do not impose your beliefs about vegetarianism or diet upon anybody. You are not required to eat meat or anything you don’t want.
- Do not stab food with a fork or knife (even while you are preparing it), use a sawing motion. Do not stir food with a knife either.
- Respect the sheep. The Dineh believe the sheep/goats are a sacred gift given to them by the Creator, and they must be respected as such. Do not yell, get angry at, or hurt the animals in any way. Respect them as part of the family.
- Certain animals are taboo. With respect to the culture, do not wear jewelry, clothing, etc., with these animals/objects: Bear, coyote, snake, lizard, owl, bones, antlers, hooves, horns, claws, fur, etc. Do not involve yourself with these animals while you are here. If you have personal medicine, such as feathers, etc., be discreet with it, keep it tucked away.
- Don’t wear excessively ragged or ripped clothing. Mend your clothing if you need to. Show that you have respect for yourself. Be modest and never go nude or partially nude.
- Cover yourself from your shoulders to your knees. (Tank tops do not cover your shoulders, and make sure your shirt covers your waist and is not low-cut.) Men, do not take off your shirts or expose your chest even while working.
- Do not wear tight or revealing clothing.
- Always wear shoes, do not go barefoot, unless the family doesn’t care, but watch out for thorns, cactus, etc.
- Personal hygiene is a must! That’s not taboo but common sense.
- With all due respect, please keep excessive facial piercings at a minimum and wear posts if you can. Piercings can sometimes be a barrier to communication and to building relationships.
- And while it’s not a taboo, it’s important to HAVE FUN! Laughs are important for everyone.
Sexual Harassment, Violence, & Unsafe Situations: It is vital that all guests and all families are safe and feel comfortable. BMIS does not support or condone violence in any form and it is absolutely not tolerated. Supporters who perpetrate violence will be immediately dealt with and be removed from Black Mesa. People have been visiting families of Black Mesa for many years and we’ve developed long time relationships together.
That said, unsafe situations can happen anywhere. You need to understand that the communities of Black Mesa have been dealing with systematic genocide and coping with traumatic stress and have been negatively affected by cultural breakdown and alcoholism. If you are confronted with an unsafe situation of any kind, violence, or sexual harassment, stand firm. Do not ever be afraid to speak out about inappropriate behavior or sexual harassment. Your safety comes first! If you are uncomfortable, do it right then and there to stop it. Do not worry about being rude or offensive. It is important to immediately inform elders and BMIS to help ensure everyones safety. If you feel uncomfortable, disrespected, or unsafe in any situation, listen to your gut instinct. Leave if you need to. If you do not have a vehicle to leave, then speak with the family, with BMIS, or anyone who can assist you. If you are a female traveling alone talk to us about it and we will take that into account when we place you with a family.
Never get into a vehicle with someone other than the head of the household. Even if a relative asks you to go with them, only do so after the elder or the head of the household that you are staying with gives the O.K. Never be afraid to say no to riding alone with others that you do not know. If you are uncomfortable speaking up then state that BMIS encourages you to feel safe. Avoid picking up hitchhikers or hitchhiking alone (besides being unsafe, it worries the elders).
Keep in mind these basic safety guidelines: It is best to come to the land with another person, or with a vehicle but not necessary. We can try to pair you up with another supporter if possible.
Communicate with support organizations and/or families regarding your needs around safety. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, contact BMIS and we will be more than happy to do our best to answer them. You are welcome to also state them on your registration form and lets work together to address them and support you.
There are mountain lions at Black Mesa, if you see one, you should act big, be loud, wave your arms, and throw rocks to scare it away.
SURVIVING IF YOU GET LOST (rare but crucial to know)
Many supporters have lived only in cities; we advise you to learn more than we can include here about how to navigate your way in rural wilderness and how to survive when you get lost. If you don’t have these skills make sure you research them, talk to someone about them, and let BMIS know too. There are some home-sites that are better for you to stay at. In the ‘What to bring’ section you will find a list of gear you must bring sheepherding, for emergencies.
The most important thing to prevent getting lost is to pay close attention to landmarks, and if you get lost is to remain calm. Hopefully you will also stick together with other people.
When you first get to a home-site, take a walk around the area, keeping the home in sight, and see what is there. Different parts of Black Mesa have very different terrain. Some parts are wide-open, flat places with few hills and few trees/shrubs and you can see long distances, other parts have many trees/shrubs that block your visibility, and some parts have canyons, steep cliffs, etc. that limit how far you can see. Get oriented to your surroundings and draw yourself a map to help remember. Put the roads on your map, and ask the family if there are other roads nearby. Put mountains and other things you see on the horizon, power lines, etc. on your map.
When you leave the home-site for sheepherding or something else, pay attention to what direction you are going- is it towards the sunrise (east) or which direction? Make sure you are going in a direction that the family has directed you, do not choose your own sheepherding direction. Also make sure the family knows you are leaving. Make mental notes (or written) about landmarks that you see in the direction you are going, and all along the routes that you take. You should bring a compass, and learn how to use it before you go. New sheepherders tend to watch the sheep and ignore the horizon and landscape that they are walking through, remember to look up and around often.
Make sure you walk on soft ground that leaves footprints so you could follow your steps home if you had to (and also other people can follow you better too). If you are herding, you can follow the animals because they will go home. Careful not to push them though. The faster you move up behind them, the faster they will go.
It is tricky to decide whether you should keep walking or if you should stop so that you don’t get further from home (and thus harder for someone else to find). When you find yourself making this decision, think: is there anyone who knows I am missing? (Sometimes supporters stay at home-sites and the family goes to town for a few days). If someone knows you are missing, it is probably better to stay put. Getting to high points is good though, so you can see more. Don’t walk at night- make a fire, make a shelter, stay warm. High points are usually windier and colder, so go down lower for the night.
Hopefully you are able to find a road, and if you do you should stay on it, put stacks of rocks on the road, make an arrow with rocks to show which way you are going if you have decided to move, defecate on the road so people know you’ve been there. It’s best to walk downhill on roads because maybe you will find water; unless you know where the road goes.
You need to bring lighters and fire starters so you can make a fire. Use it to keep warm, and also to make smoke so people can see where you are. Having a whistle is important, and so is a mirror so you can signal any helicopters, airplanes, or cars you may see in the distance.
WHAT TO DO IF CONFRONTED BY AUTHORITIES
It is essential that you remain courteous at all times. There is a possibility that you may have an encounter with or even experience harassment from law authorities. All actions taken by supporters will be at the traditional elders’ request and under their leadership. The traditional Dineh Elders are your guides and should be kept at the center of your minds when visiting and acting on their lands. With respect for their needs and wishes, there is no room for reckless, defiant, or independent behavior, as well-intentioned as it may be. Keeping with this attitude at all times, you will remember that it is the Dineh who will remain on the land after support leaves, and it is they who continue to withstand great hardships to safeguard the survival of their future generations.
If confronted by ‘authorities’ (tribal police), first of all, remain calm. It is important for you to know that non-Dine’ and Hopi helpers and sheepherders do have legal rights to assist families so that they can have firewood, water, someone to talk to, and to care for their animals, as we are legally their guest because they’ve invited us. We should not be threatened by the police to have an authorized permit.
You are not obligated by any means to give them your name or any information about yourself or anything. You should NOT give them any information about the family, or anybody else. Just herd the sheep and be on your way, if approached in the field. If a family is confronted, and with approval, stay with them, take pictures, be an outside presence. It’s good to bring a camera with you, even a disposable one to document encounters-if you have permission from the family. Keep a paper and pen on you and write license plates, vehicle descriptions, badge numbers, names, and what took place.
It is crucial that you let your host family and BMIS know in a timely manner if rangers are questioning you or families if there is a problem for being a guest of the family’s.
Remain peaceful and non-confrontational at all times. Remember that reckless or angry actions could bring down more harassment on the family in the future. Through work, prayer, and action we will continue to follow the lead of the people of Black Mesa to assure that no harm comes to them.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
WHAT TO BRING SHEEP HERDING, AND WHENEVER YOU LEAVE THE HOME-SITE ALONE: A backpack, full water bottle, food, extra warm clothing in addition to what you wear, a rain/windproof jacket (or a large garbage bag can be a poncho), pocketknife, small first aid kit, ankle/knee wrap, lighters and waterproof matches and some kind of fire starter, compass, map (even a computer print-out or something you have drawn), flashlight with good batteries, whistle and mirror for signaling, and a small ‘emergency blanket.’
WATER: You must bring plenty of water however know that there are wells located miles away that families drive to to refill water barrels. It is best to bring at least 5 gallons of water each; or 1 gallon/day. This part is so confusing, there is a big difference for people staying one week or one month. Can BMIS please clarify the water suggestion?
FOOD: Bring enough food for the duration of your stay, extra to share with your host family if you have the resources to do so. Usually families will make a trip to the grocery store within a couple weeks so you will be able to restock up on perishable items then. It’s important to eat good hearty cooked meals and to stay hydrated.
Suggested foods are: Potatoes, onions, eggs, beans (lentils cook the quickest), Braggs Liquid Aminos, oil to cook with (coconut oil is the healthiest!), spices, oats, brown rice, peanut butter, cornmeal (for pancakes, flat bread, and hot cereal), polenta, grains like quinoa cook quickly, canned foods for when you are too hungry to cook, fruit, vegetables, snacks like nuts and sardines for the duration of the day, etc.
The Dineh subsist primarily off of meat (usually mutton from the sheep), potatoes, onions, fry bread, coffee and tea, eggs, veggies, fruit that can last awhile, and oats. Many times families will share their food, but may be struggling to provide for themselves and it is imperative to bring your own to lessen their burden. If you are vegetarian or have a special diet, likewise bring your own. (Raw foodists have been able to do it up here!) With many of the families you will eat meals together, sharing each others’ food. There are no refrigerators out here, remember that. Soy and rice milk tends to last about a week in winter, 4 days in the summer.
Many people suffer from arthritis, diabetes, heart problems, and other diseases, which is largely caused by the imposition of a ‘standard American diet’ and of the forced eradication of peoples traditional diets. Most people really benefit from eating a diet that consists of traditional & healthy foods such as blue corn (which lowers cholesterol), mutton, beans, squash, brown rice, oats, veggies, fruits, etc. Keep to a minimum store-bought meat, eggs, and dairy products, white flour, sugar, and lard, shortening, & heavily fried food.
For groups, it is easiest to bring food that can be contributed to a community meal. (It is best to cook one large breakfast and one large dinner with others at the home-site you will be at. Examples: It’s easy to cook collective meals with foods such as potatoes and veggies with eggs in the A.M. and soups or stir-fries in the evening.) Especially if you are with a whole work crew, bring your own eating utensils and some cooking pots.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF – STAY HEALTHY!
Adjusting to the 7,000 ft elevation, the hot/cold, dry, dusty climate, and the change in diet and way of life can be hard on your body. Pace yourself. Remember to take care of yourself so as not to get sick. Stay hydrated! If you are not peeing, or if your pee is yellow, you are not drinking enough water. Sometimes vegetarians who come to the land get sick if they eat meat for the first time in a long time. If you decide to resume eating meat, start out with just a meat broth. Otherwise you’re likely to feel ill. It is also perfectly fine if you do not wish to eat meat.
FIRST AID KIT: Having a first aid kit that is tailored for your needs is useful (we will be in the canyon lands, miles away from a hospital). It should include: EmergenC packets or a home-made electrolyte mix of equal parts sea salt, honey, lemon and a splash of baking soda works just as well. Do not underestimate sunscreen & lip balm, as well as lotion for dry skin. Expect bug bites in the spring & especially summer. Bring cold and flu medicines especially in the for fall & winter, and bandages and creams for sprains and wounds year-round.
Bring earplugs to help you sleep, especially if you’re in a hogon with someone who snores!
BASIC HERBAL MEDICINES TO BRING:
To help settle your stomach: Peppermint is cooling, ginger is warming.
For immune: Echinacea, Elder, & Vitamin C (Echinacea is a fabulous anti-inflammatory for snake & scorpion bites. Drink a whole 2 oz bottle for bites.)
Licorice is great for sore throats but not recommended if you’ve got high blood pressure.
Wild cherry bark will suppress a coughs so that you can sleep. Otherwise it’s not wise to suppress a cough.
Blackberry root for diarrhea.
Skullcap, California Poppy, Passion Flower to help with calming and in larger doses for sleep.
Chamomile for calming nerves & stomach, though contraindicated for acid reflux; Great as a tea wash for burns and wounds.
Yarrow to stop a bleed, disinfect it, and also to break a fever.
Bring a good salve containing antibacterial and healing herbs for cuts, wounds, and infections. Arnica salve and/or homeopathic pills help relieve sore muscles.
Rescue Remedy to gather your wits in stressful moments.
The herbal medicine store in Flagstaff called Winter Sun has a fabulous herbal medicine collection. Located at 107 N San Francisco St, Flagstaff, 86001.
WHAT TO BRING TO BE SELF-SUFFICIENT
You must come prepared, and bring everything you will need. There is no electricity, no central heating, and no running water. Our commitment is to make sure that as guests, we are not creating hardships for families. If you are able to, bring extra food and supplies to share. Bring a little extra money. If you are a traveler packing light, it’s OK not to bring large tools, etc. Make sure you DO bring your emergency survival gear for sheepherding.
MONEY: It is important to bring gas money. From Flagstaff, gas generally costs anywhere from around $40.00 to $60.00 to drive round-trip. If you do not have it, talk with BMIS and/or your host family in advance and we may be able to work something out. If we coordinate your arrival ahead of time, it is possible that another supporter will be arriving the same time and gas can be shared. Another possibility is that you can catch a ride with a family member who is already making the trip to Black Mesa from Flagstaff or another bordering town. In addition to getting there and back from Flagstaff, you should bring money, if you can, to help with transportation around the land during your stay. You should also bring money to re-stock your food occasionally.
CLOTHING & GEAR: Be Prepared for extreme weather all year round! Black Mesa is a high desert terrain with an altitude of around 7,000 feet high. Visitors often feel the altitude so come rested and stay hydrated. Winter months can include dry, freezing winds beginning in October and November through as late as April. IT DOES SNOW IN THE HIGH ARIZONA DESERT FOLKS! The summers can be very hot, very dry, very dusty, and even buggy. During monsoon season (July and August) it can get extremely muddy, same with the winters. Don’t be intimidated however! There are also so many amazing, calm days as well. Arizona is known for its amazing skies and beautiful landscapes. Supporters are reading this from around the world and we want to ensure you are prepared.
- A good cold-weather sleeping bag/bedding and a pad is a requirement, even though you’ll be sleeping inside a house or hogan.
- However, if coming in a large group, it is difficult to accommodate everybody. During a large caravan, it is not guaranteed that every person will be sleeping inside. Please be prepared for extreme cold weather, especially at night, beginning in late October. Bring gear to withstand rain and snow just in case.
- If you are with a group, then also bring a good tent and tarp.
- Bring warm clothing for cold weather with extra layers for the cold nights. Bring a scarf (really helpful on windy days), extra wool socks, gloves (work gloves and gloves to keep your fingers warm), a warm hat, a hat to shade you from the sun (even in the winter), long underwear, jackets, sweaters, plastic rain coat. In the winter you should avoid cotton clothing because when it gets wet it doesn’t dry. Wool and polypropelyne are much better.
- In the summer it is important to wear long sleeves and pants that are light-colored for the days when we are working out in the sun. Besides that, covering your shoulders, mid-riff, and above the knees is courteous and appropriate. While it is the desert and the sunshine will make the days hot, the elevation is around 7,000 feet and it will still be cold at night.
- Work boots and work gloves are VERY useful. (In the winter think about warm/weatherproof sheep-herding boots) Boots are best but you can get away with tennis shoes. Wear shoes that are not going to give you blisters and will keep your feet dry. Wear warm socks such as wool. Its convenient to have a pair of sandals or slippers to easily slip on for quick, middle-of-the-night trips to the bushes or outhouse!
- Pots & pans are great, but most likely you can use the family’s. Bring a bowl, a cup, a spoon and fork, cutting board, can opener, lanterns, candles, a calling card, a pen, paper, stamps, envelopes, flashlight and batteries, pocketknife, matches and lighters, a good book to read, and crafts.
- Toiletries: Soap (Dr. Bronners liquid soap is great for washing your body, your clothes, and the dishes), toilet paper!, a towel and washcloth.
- GIFTS: If you wish to bring the elders gifts, good things are cedar, white sage, and arthritis medicine. Many people out here suffer from sore muscles and arthritis. There is a great “Arnica Muscle-Easing Salve” made by a local herb company, Winter Sun, which you can acquire in Flagstaff. The elders LOVE it! Winter Sun also makes an “Arthritis Tonic” tincture that has been helpful to many people. Groceries are also great to bring. It is also helpful to bring the following: Toilet paper, flash lights, the small Coleman-style propane tanks for lanterns (& mantles), and kerosene (& wicks) for oil lamps. If you are going where there are children, it might be nice to bring books, arts & crafts, crayons, pens, paper, beads, educational materials, toys, bikes, etc.
- TOOLS: Bring axes, mauls, replacement axe handles, duct tape, work gloves, shovels, chain-saws, pickaxes, hammers, handsaws, hoes, pliers, nails, rope, sledgehammer, construction tools, etc. If you have access to any of these, please bring them but it’s not absolutely necessary. Please replace axe handles that you break. Clearly mark & be responsible with your tools if you are not going to leave them with families.
- Communications/Documentation Equipment: Cameras, video cameras & tapes, and audio recorders & tapes. Cell phones may or may not work. Some cell phone companies work better than others on Black Mesa. Figure out a back-up plan with your crew in case you need to contact each other and your cell phone has no service. Long distance phone cards are great for when you make the occasional trip to the store.
- BRING A SENSE OF HUMOR!
- Bringing a vehicle is helpful but not necessary. If you bring a car make sure to bring the following items because you don’t want to rely on the families to help you when you get stuck: Bring tire chains, jumper cables, extra motor oil, brake fluid, gas can (it’s a long way to the gas station), coolant, spare tire and jack, a means to change a flat like patches and a compressor, and a shovel for when you get stuck in the mud, water and spare tools.
The reservation dirt roads are rough, and when muddy they turn into clay and get incredibly slippery and you will get stuck. Try not to drive when it has been raining a lot. When the roads are like that, check in with families or other travelers in the area. If it is winter, drive early in the morning when the roads are still frozen solid before the sun comes up or late at night (but try to avoid traveling at night if you can avoid it).
Good, sturdy, 4-wheel drive and high clearance vehicles are useful for driving on the land, however, cars do it all the time. For some of the less traveled roads, especially the ones down in the canyons, high clearance and 4-WD vehicles are recommended (though not necessary). For people who bring cars, this is taken into account and it helps determine where you will be placed. Homes are very far away from each other, and there are not any paved roads, stores, or phones.
If you bring a vehicle you may be asked to do some errands and folks might not have gas money either. If you are not able to, just be clear with your boundaries and discuss it if the situation arises. It is up to you if you want to loan out your vehicle or other valuables. It is good to have a vehicle to communicate with others, and if a sticky situation arises that you need to get away from, having a vehicle is useful. When preparing to leave the reservation, bear in mind that the gas stations in the area close at set times in the evening/night. (Ask a local for the closing times.)
Again, if you’re coming without a vehicle, don’t let that discourage you. With proper arrangements, there can be a ride for you.
DO NOT BRING:
Drugs, alcohol, and weapons are absolutely prohibited. This means zero tolerance! Drugs, alcohol, and weapons could jeopardize so much, affecting families far and wide. You will be asked to leave or escorted off of the land ASAP if you are found to have partook in any drug or alcohol use, or found to have a weapon or angry or out of line behavior. We’ve escorted people off the land before and will not hesitate in doing it again.
-Pets. Please leave your animal friends home. Many families have dogs to herd sheep and cats to catch mice. The animals stay outside and are usually not petted or played with. This will distract them from their duties, upset the balance, and become domesticated. Observe the relationship people have with the animals and ask if it’s O.K.’d before petting them. You are strongly encouraged to leave your pets home. Sometimes they will be tolerated, but they are not necessarily welcome. If your pet is well-behaved and the family agrees to let it stay, then it is all right. But this only really happens after you have met a family and lived with them first. Never let any animals in the house! If your dog attacks any livestock, it will have to leave or it may risk being shot.
Please inform us how your visit went. Is there any specific info that we should know that may be more helpful to the family that you stayed with? Do you have any suggestions? If we know that a family is ill, needs medicine, or has been getting harassed, then those individuals may have priority with incoming support. It is also important for us to know how your visit has been so that we can help with supporter placement in the future, meeting the needs of families and of supporters.
SOME USEFUL DINEH LANGUAGE
Limited English – Dine Dictionary with pronunciations. The following words as spelled here are pronounced phonetically.
Yah’at’eh – hello, also means good.
Oh’ – yes. Daka – no.
Dibe’ – sheep. Nanishkaad – sheep herding, sheepherder, I herd sheep. Kleh chon – dog.
Chizh – wood.
Shi – me, my. Ni – you, yours.
Masuna – grandmother (Shi Masuna is how you greet elder women).
Che – grandfather (Shi Che is how you greet elder men).
At’ ehd – girl. Ashkii – boy. Asdzaan – woman. Hosteen – man.
Hwola -I don’t know. Doya’ ashonda – It’s bad, no good, or it’s broken.
Nezgai – it hurts. Ha’at’iish nezgai?- What hurts you?
Ko jeh – right here. Haje – where. Nlei jeh – over there.
Tyen’ – let’s go. K’at – now. Kon – fire. Dakon – lantern. Chitti – car or truck. Ateen – road.
Ch’iyaan – food. Twoh -water. Da’ o’san! – Time to eat!
Nimasi – potato. Baah – bread. Nadaah – corn. Tush cheen – blue corn mush or oatmeal.
Azeh’ – medicine. Deeh – tea. Gohweh – coffee. Dibe bitsi’ – sheep meat (mutton).
Hanishchaad – carding wool.
Nizhoni – it’s nice, it’s pretty. Oh bah iih – It’s dirty, it’s bad.
gud – Juniper. Tsin – tree.
Haa go? – Where to? Where are you/we going? Aden – gone.
Beso – money.
A hyeh heh -thank you