[NOTE: Since this is a public statement by a Dine'h woman regarding the violation of Dine'h right to worship and freedom of religious expression, SENAA feels that this statement should be published as widely as possible. This violation of the Dine'h Constitutional, Civil, and Human Rights cannot and will not go unnoticed; and we will not let it happen without holding accountable those responsible for such persecution. It is in this spirit that SENAA International presents Ms. Horseherder's statement. --Al Swilling, Founder, SENAA International]
ELVIRA HORSEHERDER'S STATEMENT
Our Sun dance ceremony is not only Lakota ceremony, Norris Nez, a traditional Dine' Medicine Man put up ceremony first, in the morning, praying for all 4 directions then the ceremony started and Joe Chasinghorse, the Lakota Sun dance leader continued the ceremony. This is our own traditional way. We have a right to have a ceremony in any way we choose to. We can pray to the earth, the water, the trees, everything. What I am telling you is true, yes, absolutely true, we as grandmothers were pushed around by Hopi policeman, not Hopi Rangers. Pauline Whitesinger and my mom, Ruth Benally and me, we were really hurt because we were pushed around by Hopi police. We have a right to have Freedom. We don't want to be pushed around by policeman or anybody.
We are not trespassers, we live here in Big Mountain, we were born here, and our ancestors were here long ago. We have a right to walk on our land. This is our traditional grandmothers and grandfathers land before us. Their burial places are here, we know where they are, back thousands of years we know our grandmothers and grandfathers names. We never heard of a Hopi that lived here back then. The Hopi Tribe just wants the coal and the money that are in the resources in the ground. This is what is destroying our land. We just go by our prayers and traditional ways. We don't understand digging coal. The coal is our mother earth's liver.
Around Big Mountain the Hopi Tribe says we are trespassing, but our hogan is sitting right there. They told us we are trespassing, this is where we live, this is where our home is. When the Hopi say we are trespassing, this is not true.
On July 1, we prayed early in the morning. My mom, Ruth Benally offered her corn pollen to the trees. She made a ceremony, then we left to go to Kayenta to get the Sun dance tree from here. When we were by where John Benally lives in Big Mountain and we tried to bring the tree into the ceremonial ground we saw a lot of police road blocks and they stopped us. They told us not to go in there. We stood there and we asked them why they are doing this, we told them we have a right to have a ceremony. We told them we are having this ceremony because our people are suffering, have headaches and are sick. We told them this is why we need support from all natives and non-natives that come to support and pray for us, for our land, water, for the air, for our health and our animals. This is what we live on.
This is why we decided to put up the Sun dance tree and have another ceremony and because we have the right to have ceremony. This was around 8:00 PM in the evening. There were police parked right there. My mom and I stood in front of the tree. There was a white bronco right by where we stood. A man, not dressed in police uniform who had no hair and was dressed in gray with a book in his hand came up to us. He said we have no right to do this, he said this is not your land, you are trespassing. He spoke in a harsh voice to us. Then he opened the door of his vehicle and grabbed my mom to push her in the front seat of the vehicle, he grabbed her by her belly and pushed her in the vehicle and slammed the door. I was standing by my mom and then he pushed me in the vehicle and on the other side I saw Pauline Whitesinger was already in the vehicle. After that he went inside and drove off with us right away. We looked back and saw they put Louise Benally and Joella Ashike were in the panel. They rushed us to towards Rocky Ridge.
This is not graded road, there are a lot of ditches, the road is rough. I understand the mileage, we were going over 75 mph on the dirt roads and we are afraid. The police man was using his brake and we were going too fast. My mom told him can't you slow down. He did not listen, my mom spoke only in Dine'. My mom almost bumped into the front dashboard since she was given no seat belt. He did 90 mph when we reached the paved road all the way to the Hopi Chairman, Wayne Taylor's office. He put us in a little room and he said you ladies go in there, they dragged in Louise and we followed her in there. We sat there and he told us, you ladies are arrested and handcuffed us. He changed drivers but they did not say anything to us, he just pushed us into the vehicle and took us on to Keams Canyon. We never saw the Hopi Chairman. And the police man drove really fast and parked in front of the Hopi jail in Keams Canyon. He opened the door and said you ladies get out and pushed us in a room. A police lady came in and threw some prison clothes at us. Then Louise and Joella were sent into another room to put their jail pants on. I followed my mom and Pauline into the room they put us. My mom said no, leave me alone, just give me a top, I cannot wear pants. She told them, I wear a dress, there is no problem, but she spoke only in Dine' and they could not understand her.
The Police woman said, no, take off you dress right now. She said this in English, then she pulled my mom's skirt down and put the pants on her. My mom is shy and was scared and shaking and she couldn't walk. She was just standing there. Then she did the same thing to Pauline. The lady then said go out that door and stand right there. We were pushed into to room and they threw us a big mattress, over 80 pounds for my mom, Pauline and Louise, Joella and I to share. The mattress was really old and smelled. We had to drag it into the room. The room was small and only had 4 beds. There were 6 women already in there. Then she locked the door. This is all we had. After that, about 10 minutes later, she checked on us and said put your mattress down and lay down and go to sleep. We were all supposed to sleep on one mattress, my mom and Pauline won't go to sleep, they just sat there, their heads against the wall and my mom said that around her waist it hurt her, where the policeman grabbed her.
The next morning they told us to eat in a room nearby, they give us a tray with a little bit of food. There was a table in that room but we were forced to go back to our mattress in the little room. Pauline and Ruth could not even eat their food since they have no teeth and take a while to eat. We sat and ate there, while we were still eating and they took our trays back before we were finished eating. Then around 8:00 a.m., we had to go to Court. They handcuffed us again in a line, Louise first, then Joella, Pauline, my mom, then me. This is how they took us to the Court room. In the court room they lined us up in front of the judge. They asked Louise to translate for us. Louise said no way, you arrested me, why should I help you, you can talk to them yourself. They didn't know what to do since they did not have a translator. Then they motioned for us to go out, so we followed them and they took us back into the little room. Just Louise and Joella had court. We waited. Later, in the room we were kept in they told us, we would have Court on the 30th. After a while they gave us a paper, this is what it said. They were not going to release us unless we paid them a $500.00 bond each. But after our attorney called, they said you are free to go. They threw us our clothes in plastic bags and we got dressed. When we left the jail there were a whole bunch of people waiting there for us, and all my daughters. Me and my mom drove off together with my daughters and Pauline and Joella and Louise went with another supporter. Finally when we went back to where the ceremony was being held we were happy to see that it was still going on. And my mom and Pauline and I went in to the Sun dance tree and prayed for our healing and we prayed for the people, land, air, trees, then the ceremony continued. We were happy to be home.
During the Sun dance the police made a roadblock to turn the people back and give them tickets. If the people went in they got a ticket. I think about the police gave out about 400-500 tickets for $500.00 per day trespassing charge to the Dine' people and to our supporters. Even my daughter who wanted to get us water since we only had empty barrels, we had no water but she was told she would be fined if she left. They said we could not get water. Leonard Benally tried to get water but he was told if he tried he would go to jail. The police said they shut off the water well for the whole time of the Sun dance. It was not until Sunday afternoon that they turned the water back on. This is a water source used by hundreds of people. It is not even on HPL, it is on NPL. How could they do this to us?
The Hopi police treated us really bad. We think we should have freedom, we are grandmothers. We like to help and pray. We don't want to be pushed around. We still are human beings with five fingers. We always go by our traditional ways, we pray and we want to walk in Beauty Way. This is our traditional way, we wear traditional clothes for the women, this is how we were born in the earth, we were all born in Big Mountain, under the tree, on the ground. And when we were born our late grandma picked us up from the earth and cleaned us up. She laughed and we were wrapped in mohair sheepskin. We will not forget our traditional ways, walking, having our children grow up among Big Mountain.
The newspaper has a bunch of lies saying that John Benally was going to shoot around to people that interfered with the ceremony. John didn't talk that way to anyone, he only told the police, don't push the grandmothers around. We got freedom. This is what he said. There were about 50 witnesses that heard what was really said. The police that took us to Hopi jail kidnapped us by force from where we stood by the Sun dance tree, near our own homes and hogans. This is the truth. When my mind comes back to thinking about the policeman speeding down the dirt roads, I remember it was rough and scary. The Hopi police and the Hopi Tribe just lie when they told us they were just taking us to meet with the Hopi Chairman to see about a permit for the ceremony. And when we got to Hopi, they told us, you women are arrested. They talked to us just like we were little girls. This is what I know. This is the truth. We want our freedom so we can pray and not be called trespassers on our own land. We just want to be free.
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