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Bitter Water

Diné Oral Histories of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute

Malcolm D. Benally

Publication Year: 2011

Many know that the removal and relocation of Indigenous peoples from traditional lands is a part of the United States’ colonial past, but few know that—in an expansive corner of northeastern Arizona—the saga continues. The 1974 Settlement Act officially divided a reservation established almost a century earlier between the Diné (Navajo) and the Hopi, and legally granted the contested land to the Hopi. To date, the U.S. government has relocated between 12,000 and 14,000 Diné from Hopi Partitioned Lands, and the Diné—both there and elsewhere—continue to live with the legacy of this relocation.

Bitter Water presents the narratives of four Diné women who have resisted removal but who have watched as their communities and lifeways have changed dramatically. The book, based on 25 hours of filmed personal testimony, features the women’s candid discussions of their efforts to carry on a traditional way of life in a contemporary world that includes relocation and partitioned lands; encroaching Western values and culture; and devastating mineral extraction and development in the Black Mesa region of Arizona. Though their accounts are framed by insightful writings by both Benally and Diné historian Jennifer Nez Denetdale, Benally lets the stories of the four women elders speak for themselves.

Scholars, media, and other outsiders have all told their versions of this story, but this is the first book that centers on the stories of women who have lived it—in their own words in Navajo as well as the English translation. The result is a living history of a contested cultural landscape and the unique worldview of women determined to maintain their traditions and lifeways, which are so intimately connected to the land. This book is more than a collection of stories, poetry, and prose. It is a chronicle of resistance as spoken from the hearts of those who have lived it.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

We Diné point to a place in present-day northeastern New Mexico as the site of the emergence of our forebears from the lower worlds to this world, the Glittering World. Beings, including those who became the Diné, journeyed through a series of worlds to emerge in the present one. Upon their entrance, First Man, one of...

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pp. xv-xvii

On October 10, 1998, Into the Mud Productions announced a grant from the Open Society Institute’s Soros Documentary Fund for a sixty-minute documentary, Bitter Water: Diné Chronicles of Resistance. The goal of the documentary fund was “to raise public consciousness about human rights abuses and restrictions of civil...


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pp. xix-xx

The Travel Song

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pp. xxi

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pp. 1-8

The narratives and stories of Mae Tso, Roberta Blackgoat, Pauline Whitesinger, and Ruth Benally, first in the written Navajo, then in English translation, make up the first four chapters of this book. They set the context, tone, and ethos for chapter 5, ”Sheep Is Life,” and the stories of resistance. So the words of these women who shared their...

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1. Mae Tso, Mosquito Springs, Arizona

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pp. 9-23

My name is Mae Tso. I’m fifty-eight years old. I am of the Mexican people’s Water Flows Together clan born for the Towering House. My grandpa is from the Many Goats clan. My grandmother is Chiricahua Apache Bitter Water.1...

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2. Roberta Blackgoat, Thin Rock Mesa, Arizona

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pp. 25-38

Roberta Blackgoat is my name. I’m Tódichíí’nii, Bitter Water. The Salt People are my father’s clan, the Mexican people are my grandfather’s, and Many Goats clan my grandmother’s. This is how I am placed here on the Earth....

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3. Pauline Whitesinger, Big Mountain, Arizona

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pp. 39-53

I am of the Water Edge people. My father is from the Chiricahua Apache people. The Red House are my maternal grandparents. I am a Diné woman who lives here. My exact age is hard to remember. All those years are not clear anymore....

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4. Ruth Benally, Big Mountain, Arizona

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pp. 54-61

There is a political controversy that makes life very hard for people here. “Relocate outside of HPL,” I’m told. But my late grandfather and my Elders lived here. Elder men and women have passed on before me. The relocation law has been here to create...

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5. Sheep Is Life

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pp. 62-83

You see there is only the sheep. This is what the holy people created. A horse, too, was created a long time ago. On horseback, you saw people could live on the land just by riding a horse around....

The Mutton Hunger

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pp. 85

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pp. 87-88

She is standing outside of her traditional Navajo hogan in Thin Rock Mesa, Arizona, wearing Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses, a dark-colored velveteen blouse, and a handkerchief she ties into a scarf the way most Navajo woman do. She is standing beside a small white cardboard poster taped to a wooden Bureau of Indian Affairs survey...

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Appendix: Natural Law and Navajo Religion/Way of Life

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pp. 89-94

For the past two decades a group of Navajo families have been resisting an act of Congress to relocate them from their homes in the center of the Navajo reservation pursuant to the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act (Public Law 93-531). They have always maintained that moving away from their land would prevent them...


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pp. 95-98


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pp. 99-100


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pp. 101-102

E-ISBN-13: 9780816506620
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816528981

Page Count: 136
Publication Year: 2011