Fighting the fight, Durango Herald, Nov. 16, 2007

Images top to bottom: One of 40 photographs in “Question of Power,” at the Fort Lewis College Art Gallery on Thursday. “The marchers are forcibly stopped and blocked out of the inauguration by Navajo Nation Police. President Joe Shirley is not allowing you into the inauguration. You must turn around NOW,” the photo caption read. Lucille Willie and her lambs that that died the week after this picture was taken appear in “Question of Power,” a photography exhibit by Carlan Tapp. Tapp’s caption reads, in part, “The air is polluted, it is hard to breathe. The sheep have a hard time finding fresh plants to eat. The livestock is my work, my life.” Sharissa Bydonie, a senior at Piedra Vista High School, checks out “Question of Power” during a campus tour at the first Native American College Day on Thursday. Students from several schools in the Four Corners visited Fort Lewis College to learn about college preparation, admission and financial aid.

Carlan Tapp is angry and he’s doing something about it.Six months after Sept. 11, Tapp rededicated his photography and his life to environmental and social justice issues. He moved from Seattle to Santa Fe.

In 2005, he began exploring through his camera lens the impact of two coal burning power plants in the Four Corners on the people living in the area. He met Lucy A. Willie and Sarah Jane White, the founders of Dooda Desert Rock protest group. For two years, he has been documenting the impact that coal burning power plants are having on the Dine people.

The photographs are not pretty. Powerful. Poignant. Plaintive. These are other words that come to mind when viewing this exhibit.

It’s one thing to be opposed to Desert Rock on principle, because of global warming, because of health concerns. It’s another to see those principles documented on the faces of the people who are breathing coal dust and drinking toxic water, watching their sheep and cattle die. Documented in the scars on the land caused by strip mining. Documenting the sacred, spiritual places within the Navajo Nation that will be destroyed to provide electricity, not primarily to the Dine people, but to the rest of us.

This is the type of exhibit that is meaningful and worthwhile at Fort Lewis College. (It previously spent one day – July 14, 2007 – at Open Shutter Gallery).

It should be required viewing for every student on campus. It should be required viewing for every person in the Four Corners and beyond. Tapp realizes this, and each photo on display is available for purchase. The cost is $400 and all proceeds benefit “A Question of Power,” a documentary project designed to provide “a clear voice for the Navajo People in their opposition to existing and future coal-burning power plants on their Homelands,” Tapp writes on the documentary Web site

The New Mexico Community Foundation provides a 501c3 nonprofit designation.

“The Dine People suffer from respiratory disease and cancer from the pollution laden air, soil, and water. Many Navajos have voted in opposition to a new power plant, Desert Rock, to be built on the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners area. But, no one is listening. From the top of the Federal Government down to the Tribal Council the People’s voices are being ignored,” Tapp writes on the site.

He includes text with each image in the exhibit, providing the back story and details from each photo: the name of the person, the location, the date of the protest.

According to Tapp, a Dine Power Authority Report says: “There are no cultural or historic sites located within the proposed mine or power plant locations.” Tapp’s plaintive photos then show Red Top Mesa, Weapearhat Butte and other sacred eagle nesting areas that will be destroyed. Jim Mason, a Medicine Man photographed by Tapp says: “The ceremonial plants are dying from the pollution, which falls from the sky. Their roots are dead.”

This exhibit is reverent, almost ceremonial. The photos are presented elegantly in simple white matting with black frames.

Each image is printed with a thick black outline. A poignant image is one of Lucy Willie cuddling two lambs in her arms, like puppies. The lambs died the week after Tapp captured this image.

Sarah Jane White is photographed and asks “What will this do for my people? New jobs? Money?”

Nothing is the resounding answer Tapp presents.

Nothing but provide the 20 pounds of coal on average that every person in the U.S. uses to keep electricity flowing. Nothing, if you call releasing high levels of uranium, arsenic and selenium into the ground water at levels at one of the power plants that the National Academy of Sciences concluded does not meet current EPA requirements, nothing.

Nothing but pump 15 million tons of chemical toxins into the air each year as the San Juan Power Plant in New Mexico does.

Carlan Tapp is angry, and he hopes we will all do something about it. Leanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the visual arts.

One thought on “Fighting the fight, Durango Herald, Nov. 16, 2007

  1. It is sad to see this happening to what the United States call The Land of Enchanment. What is so enchanting is the coal and power coming from all this madness. I have lived near this area in Tohatchi and I am sadden by the look of brown smoke that fills the beautiful blue sky. Where else can the Dine ppl go. The ppl have grown to a custom to live in harmony with the land and now it is being destroyed by creating pollution and killing of the whole creative system. I don’t know if this will ever be resolve but if not I know we (the Dine) will find a way around all this chaos. I just had to say my peace!


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