At the Golden Sands Cafe in Kayenta a juke-box blares. Dishes clatter. A horn honks. Truck motors roar. Smells of hamburger, french fries, barbecued beef and exhaust smoke mix in the darkened dining room where sun-burned tourists and dusty coal miners wait for lunch.
You can find Florence Luna at the back of the cafe in a steamy kitechen, a pan of hot grease in her hand. She works here now as a cook, far from the silence of the home where she once lived on Black Mesa with its smells of sheep, cedar smoke and pinon.
Ten years ago Florence, her son Eugene, and her father Avery Luna lived quietly there among their relatives, herding their 300 sheep and caring for their horses and cows. But the drag-lines of Peabody Coal Company moved toward their land from the north, and from the south came the barbed wire fence that now cuts their camp between the houses and the corral.
The mine came because of an agreement signed by the coal company and the Navajo Tribe. The fence was the U.S. government's way of settling the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute.
One by one Florence's brothers and sisters left for school or jobs in distant places because they saw that there was no room for them on the land. Her stepmother passed away. Her son married and went to work at the mine. She and her father held on for a while. Then they too left the mesa.
One of Florence's sisters married a Hopi, and he got a job at the mine. They had permission to use an acre of land near some relatives outside Kayenta. There was room for Florence and her father, but not for the livestock. The sheep were sold.
"My father tried to stop the mine, but he didn't stop it," says Florence. "Then at the end he seemed to say, 'Okay, let it happen, whatever is going to happen.' He saw the mine and he heard what the Hopis were saying. From then on he was different, as if he saw no reason to live. He died from his longing for the land. This is what we think. Many older people died almost the same day. It seems that only the young ones are left."
Florence, then in her 40's, changed her flowing Navajo skirts for slacks and jeans and found work as a cook at the Golden Sands in Kayenta. Like Florence herself, the cafe and the town are there because of the coal mine. Miners from the trailer court nearby stop at the Golden Sands for coffee and a meal before driving up to the mine. So do tourists heading for Monument Valley. The cafe tries to make them think of the "real wild west." Junked Navajo wagons lie by the front door. The wagon wheels now carry lights and hang from from the ceiling inside. Dusty old saddles sit on the roof beams. Fried bread and stew made by Florence Luna sells for $2.75. Waylon Jennings will sing two songs from the juke box for a quarter.
Florence can remember when irrigated cornfields covered the land now taken by the cafe, streets and buildings. Her father used to come down from the mesa in the summers to tend his field and listen to the wind whispering through the corn stalks. No paved highway went through Kayenta then and no roaring pickups or diesel rigs.
Florence can remember when the first school was built in Kayenta. Then came another school and a chapter house. Now Kayenta is one of the only real towns on the reservation. There is a new housing project, two trailer courts built by Peabody Coal Company, two large motels, including a Holiday Inn with a heated swimming pool, several gas stations and restaurants, a post office, a laundromat, a TV repair shop, and a bank.
Driving home from the cafe after work, Florence points to the bank. "My father used to say that our sheep corral was like a bank. 'When you need money,' he used to say, 'you can go to your corral, take out a sheep and sell it. That is like making a withdrawal from a bank. You walk away with money.'"
Florence finds it hard to save enough money to put in the bank, however. And she can no longer go to her corral. She misses her livestock. "If you have a job you can always get laid off or fired any day. Then you have nothing! You have nothing to fall back on. With livestock you always have something to come back to."
Florence lives with her eight-year old niece Donna in a tiny hogan next door to her sister and a few miles from town. This land where they first lived after moving off the mesa is used by her father's relatives. Before Florence's sister built on it, all the relatives had to agree. She could not have made a home there if even one person had disagreed. The relatives have their own livestock, and Florence and her sisters know there isn't room for more.
"It's like bouncing up in the air and not knowing where you will land," she says. "It's like that here where I'm living now. I built this small hogan last summer, but in a way I stole the land. If we let sheep out to graze, someone would be right over saying, 'What right do you have to graze livestock?' and I couldn't answer them. So I am living anaashii - as an outsider. I don't really belong.
"I would like to have sheep and maybe two cows because of my niece. You use livestock to teach your children. When you are a child you learn to think for the sheep. You have to think, 'Where are they going to drink? Where are they going to eat?' - just as you would for yourself. You think and you see that you will have to build a better house for them, just as you have to plan a house for yourself. You learn to love them, just as you will one day love your own children. As you care for your sheep, so you will learn to care for your own children in the same way."
Florence worries about Donna growing up without learning these things. But she has no choice. "There is no land. So we just live here. Just live. No livestock. That's how it is."
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