Let there be light

Black Mesa residents revel in new-found power

By Kathy Helms, Diné Bureau, Gallup 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 sewing.

“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 horses.
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.”

It’s Charley’s 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.



Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html