Let there be light
Black Mesa residents revel
in new-found power
By Kathy Helms, Diné Bureau,
Independent, MAY 23, 2009
BLACK MESA, Ariz. — In all of Lillie
Chief’s 84 years, one of the most amazing things she
has witnessed is being able to flip a switch on the
wall and watch her home light up instantaneously. It
is the first time in her life that she has had electricity.
“Now I can see inside here,” she told
Navajo Tribal Utility Authority representatives during
a May 12 visit to her home atop Black Mesa.
The kerosene lamps she once used have
now been stashed in various corners of the home, and
a new electric stove sits in the corner wrapped in plastic,
still waiting to be hooked up. A prop ane stove used
for cooking meals sits near the kitchen door. But the
new refrigerator her children bought for her can be
heard humming away in the kitchen.
“Before, the meat would spoil right
away and we used to buy tons and tons of ice just to
keep it fresh,” said Chief’s daughter, Carol Tallman,
who is awaiting the power to be turned on at her new
home next door.
Harve Holiday, acting customer service
supervisor for NTUA, said the Navajo Nation utility’s
Fort Defiance construction crew battled up to 2 feet
of snow and accompanying mud this past winter to run
a single-phase power line to Chief’s home.
“It was energized and meters installed
probably in the latter part of January, and the final
inspection was done the month of March,” he said. Six
families were hooked up to the power line.
Through translator Bernice Tsosie of
NTUA, Chief — who was out herding sheep when visitors
arrived — said she used to live where Peabody Western
Coal Co. now has its airstrip. Thirty-five years ago
she and her family were relocated and lived in a hogan
at their present site near the mine.
“We moved here when they were little
kids and now they’re all grown up and have their own
kids,” she said. Chief received relocation money from
Peabody to build her present home. Her children are
now returning to Black Mesa and building their own homes
on the Chief Compound, as it is known.
Extending electricity to the area is
a dream come true for Chief. “I thought it would never
happen,” she said, “Water is what we’re wanting too.
We don’t know if we’ll get it, but that’s the next one
that we’d like to see.”
Holiday said that when elderly residents
are told they soon will have electricity, the usual
response is, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
About three weeks ago, the Black Mesa
Area 1 power line extension was energized and most of
the meters installed a week later.
Theresa Begay, 32, who lives in Area
1, was in Albuquerque when the electricity was turned
on. After approximately 16 years without it, she is
slowly adjusting. The one thing she has noticed is the
silence that came with the electricity.
“We usually used the generator; then
when the electric turned on, it was all quiet. It’s
still quiet. We got used to the generator. We usually
turned on the generator to watch TV or make coffee.
I think we just got used to the old ways.
Sometimes it feels strange to come in
and flip a switch,” Begay said.
But now when her daughter wakes up at
4 a.m. to get ready for school, she no longer has to
fire up the generator.
However, if a family member wakes up
in the middle of the night, she said, they still turn
on a flashlight rather than the electric lights. She
still uses a propane stove for cooking and a Singer
treadle machine is her first choice when it comes to
“I have some electric things,” but they’re
still packed away, she said. “I haven’t taken them out.
I haven’t bought a refrigerator yet. I just only have
a coffee maker and a microwave, but only one time we’ve
used the microwave. The coffee maker is like every evening.
“Even the radio is still on batteries.
I haven’t plugged it in,” she said.
Denny Begay, who lives in the same compound,
said he is happy they finally have electricity “because
we can do away with the generator. Right now we can
hook up the air compressor and all the equipment that
uses more power. In the past, we’d just light up part
of the house,” he said, because it took too much power.
If they overloaded the 3,000 watt generator,
it would just die out. He said they would use about
5 gallons of gasoline a week to power the generator.
“But just to replace a generator part, it would be like
maybe $200, and then the engine runs about $150 to $300.
They don’t last that long.”
In the evening he now can watch TV,
but the day is devoted to taking care of cattle and
Now that he has electricity, he said, “It’s way better.
It keeps the refrigerator going all day. Before that,
we usually just get ice from the store, and it lasts
maybe two days.”
Alfred Charley Sr., 75, was out herding
sheep in Area 1, sitting by the roadside behind a low
hill that blocked the wind, when NTUA representatives
stopped to talk to him. His dogs Jamus and Long Dog
were close by. Because he has a leg injury, the dogs
are trained to help him stand and were very protective
of their master when visitors approached.
Charley also received electricity about
three weeks ago.
“When they were talking about it, I
was skeptical. It took a long time,” he said. “I like
the power line now. I just get up in the morning and
turn the switch and the light comes on. It’s really
bright, just like that!
“My wife and family enjoy it. We really
take care of it now that we have it. It’s really nice.
“It’s worth the wait that long for the convenience that
it is providing us with the light and refrigeration,”
he said, “Before the electricity, the meat wouldn’t
last very long. My wife appreciates having the convenience.”
first time ever having electricity. “I hope that we
get water too. We just haul water all the time. We used
to haul water from Kayenta, but now Peabody has that
watering point. I appreciate everything that Peabody
did,” he said, especially reseeding the mine area.