Black Mesa, Arizona

Encyclopedia Article


Black Mesa is an elevated, bowl-shaped region (approximately 4,000 square miles) located in northern Arizona. It is part of the Navajo Reservation; a portion of the Hopi Reservation; and some of the Navajo-Hopi Joint Use Area, which is claimed by both the Navajo and Hopi. The region of Black Mesa includes a mesa itself as well as the surrounding sloping hills, canyons, valleys, and four drainages that are tributaries of the Little Colorado River.

This area has been inhabited by Native peoples for over 7,000 years. It is significant to both the Hopi and the Navajo peoples, there are approximately 16,000 Navajo and 8,000 Hopis on Black Mesa. The Hopi reservation consists of twelve villages located on three mesas: First Mesa, Second Mesa, and Third Mesa, all of which are located upon the larger Black Mesa. The Hopi consider this land sacred and part of their tribal history and origin. For the Navajo peoples, Black Mesa is the sacred female mountain, also known as the Female Pollen Range, and is important to the frequently performed Blessingway ceremony. The Blessingway (Hózhójí) is used to bless the "one sung over," to ensure good luck, good health, and blessings for everything that pertains to them.

Black Mesa is a contested area among Anglo settlers and industrialists, the Hopi, and the Navajo peoples. Despite strong opposition from within and outside their communities, in 1966 the Navajo and Hopi tribal councils sold the mineral and aquifer rights on Black Mesa to the Peabody Coal Company for two million dollars a year. Peabody Coal has been accused of depleting the region’s aquifer; destroying sacred sites; strip-mining; and polluting the area, the Navajo called their actions the “rape of Earth Mother.” Under federal law PL 93-531, at least 12,000 to approximately 16,000 Navajos were forcefully relocated from Black Mesa, in the largest Indigenous relocation in the United States since the Trail of Tears. The Black Mesa mine was closed in 2005; however, in 2008 Peabody Coal received a permit to open again but were denied by administrative law judge in 2010 for not satisfying the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Photo Credit: 

"The eastern edge of Black Mesa, west of Chilchinbito, Arizona" by Doc Searls is licensed under CC BY-SA.