of The Gift Economy
Many Voices discuss The Gift Economy
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I am Dineh (Navajo) from northeastern Arizona. I come from a community,
Big Mountain Black Mesa, where our principles and foundations are based on a
matriarchal society, and I was raised that way among my people by my mother
and father. I come from a large family. I have seven brothers and three sisters,
and so, in my life, gift, the beauty way, means not just human relations with one
another, but rather, a recognition of universal interconnectedness. They say that
the sun is our father; without the sun, there is no life on earth. The mother is
the Earth, and in this way we try to remember that there is a balance because
there is a female and a male in all our systems. We try to walk this beauty way of
life being mindful of this balance, which is difficult right now because there is
no longer harmony with this very government that we live under. We have been
oppressed for the last 30 or more years in my community because of greed that
is lighting up Las Vegas. We have a coal mining operation on our land that has
devastated our community for many, many years, and even though our situation
may be pleasant at times, our life ways are not the greatest. We still value the gifts
of our sun, the gifts of the earth such as food, air, water, and the environment, all
of which are being devastated right now because of greed that has no limit and
that is affecting everybody everywhere.
Big Mountain Black Mesa
The Beauty Way
How can we get this superpower, this country, to stop this? We don’t really
know exactly how. Maybe we should show them that just as mothers give un-
conditionally to their children—a mother’s love is the gift we mothers give to all
our children, our people,all people, young and old alike—we must give back,
unconditionally, to the Earth. Yet, there is greed, there is hatred, there are people
that do not understand this world and are going in a direction that depletes and
destroys the Earth, never thinking about the next person, never thinking about
the future generations.
How we, as the Black Mountain people, live is not recognized in this day and
time. We continue to communicate with the earth, with the sky, with the sun, with
the atmosphere, with the different seasons, and all the life that is here. Because we
feel that we have no control, it does not matter if George Bush is the president.
We still have to eat, drink, raise children, and live. In our community we try to
exist now by denial; denying that there are all these policies that are affecting our
lives. If we let these policies affect us all the time then we are imbalanced because
we are concerned, we are worried, and we may be depressed. So, in my world, I
deny that this is happening to our people. The reality of my life is that I have to
live, I have to provide, I have to in some way give back to the earth, to the air. I
travel to different places speaking and encouraging young people to understand
these ways and to value them.
Today it is very challenging because our atmosphere is deteriorating, and in
our part of the country, our water is being privatized. There is a very little bit of
good drinking water left and all these different companies are after our resources;
they want to privatize them, for greed. What do they give back in return? Pol-
lution. And pollution is affecting all the life on earth today. The air is not pure
anymore, the water is not pure anymore. This is of great concern to me, and my
I feel for the mothers on the other side of the world that are being frightened
by terrorists. How are we going to change this? Will it have to be the women who
step up and say, “No! We need to stop this!” If this is what it takes, then we must
do this, the sooner the better, because there are children, there are mothers, there
are brothers, and sisters that are being killed, that are dying, for no reason.
And in Big Mountain the situation is the same. We are not literally being killed,
but we are being oppressed, we are denied our human rights, we are denied re-
ligious rights, we are denied the right to grow our own food, and we are denied
the right to gather a load of wood so we might stay warm through the night. Our
life is being denied.
I have lost a lot of people—my elders, my children, my brothers, my sisters—as
a consequence of this situation. My people are heartbroken. They don’t know what
to do. They don’t speak English, so there’s no comprehension of why others would
want to destroy the land. We don’t understand this at all. Why do they want to
control the air, the water, and how we live?
As children of the earth we should share what we have. If we can give, we must
give. If we cannot let go of all of it, we can break a piece of it and still give. That’s
what “gift” is to me, to my people. Our struggle has always been difficult, because
we are up against great odds all the time. But if we pray, if we sing, if we eat, if
we grow our food, if we harvest our firewood—that’s what our life was like before
colonialism—we can continue to walk the beauty way. And we teach this to our
children, so that they will have hope to walk in these hard times.
Right now many, many of our children are sent overseas to commit huge crimes
against humanity. We, as mothers, have to say something, as sisters we have to say
something, as aunties we have to say something. We cannot stand by and allow
this to continue, allow our children to be killed, and to kill others. Somehow we
have to stop this. We need to unite locally and globally and say, “No! Stop this!
In the end—and we don’t have very much time left, with the way things are
going now—the greedy want to destroy everything, they want to take everything,
but they don’t know what lies beyond. Their scientists don’t know either. I know
because my grandpa used to say: “Don’t let them take all the resources from the
earth, because the moon controls the water wave. If we lose a lot of the resources
on the earth, it will unbalance the earth and the moon, and then we are going to
be in real trouble.” And that is where we are headed.
The Las Vegas lights, the power to light the city up, comes from my community,
Big Mountain Black Mesa. We have no running water, we have no decent housing,
we have no electricity, we have no school roads for our kids, we have nothing,
but our resources light up Las Vegas. We are outcasts in our own country. But
that doesn’t stop us. It encourages us to walk the beauty way and heed the cries
of Mother Earth to heal the planet before it is too late.
Louise Benally is a 46-year-old Dineh mother and grandmother. She is a human
rights activist, an environmental activitist, a traditional educator/counsellor, and an
herbalist. Currently, she is working for the Northern Arizona University on health
promotion, diabetes prevention, and healing gardens. This is one way she teaches about
a “healthy living world” for all the living beings.