Nihi Ké’ Baa’ (NKB) is a collective of grassroots Diné organizers working to remediate our homelands and create a healthy, sustainable and viable future rooted in ancestral knowledge. Our mission is to build sustainable infrastructure while healing our land and bodies through reclaiming Indigenous autonomy and ancestral lifeways. Our goals focus on comprehensive healthful solutions to the intersecting problems of: climate change, poisoning of land and people by extractive industries and lack of healthy food access, shortage of housing and cultural hubs for traditional wisdom reclamation and ceremony, lack of infrastructure essential for mutual aid and healthy community networks. Some of the sustainable and regenerative solutions we have engaged in toward these goals include ancestral food reclamation and distribution, watershed restoration, bioremediation, community skill building, herbal medicine reclamation, climate change response through forest and land stewardship, and direct support of unhoused relatives.
We are firm believers that how we treat the land is how we treat ourselves. When we heal the land, we heal ourselves. We yearn for that healing and we continue to create innovative ways to heal for our ancestors and for future generations. We are currently engaged in a development phase, strategically focused on building sustainable and regenerative infrastructure for housing in the form of a building society. Our clans have always had different societies. Our hope is to reintroduce these societies as a means to draw our people home in order to shift power and build land-centered solutions. More Diné people moving back to our homelands means more people to defend our land and sovereignty against continued desecration and theft by extractive industries and federal colonial entities. In turn, this regrowth of community on our homelands offers more opportunities to decolonize through connection to land, culture and traditional lifeways. Traditional lifeways that are based on sustainable tiny home living and living off the land. Our ancestors have always lived “green.”
Our building society is a solution to the lack of infrastructure and sustainable housing in our community and our community’s need for safe spaces in which to gather for ceremony, networking, mutual aid and ancestral teaching. Decades of fossil fuel and uranium extraction have contaminated our lands. The limited infrastructure that exists in the area was developed to facilitate extractive industry’s presence—creating a shortage in housing and a reliance on bordertown economies. Local community members are expected to move off the land into the cities or work for industry. Local food systems were destroyed as part of the process of colonization, and though many of us have maintained our agricultural traditions, contaminants in the soil and water threaten our ancestral way of life. Working at the frontlines of colonization and extractive industry, our interaction with the land and community while building this sustainable infrastructure offers an emergent practice in which the land guides us to generate solutions for healing that support autonomy and ancestral lifeways and that allow us to decolonize ourselves in spirit, mind and body. In this way the land itself is teaching us how to decolonize.
Over the past two years, our cohort of community members, organizational leaders, indigenous comrades, teachers, elders and allies has cleaned up a total of five acres of illegal trash dump sites, cleared and remediated a building site, built a 1,400-square-foot community kitchen and collective office space (out of strawbale), built leadership capacity by attending sustainable building technique trainings, and facilitated local workshops and trainings in straw bale and adobe construction, watershed restoration, and soil and plant identification. All while maintaining distribution of healthy ancestral foods and supplies to fulfill basic needs of isolated and unhoused community members and Covid-positive households throughout our region.
The next phase will be to build ancestral hogans (Dine’ ancestral homes) using each of the sustainable techniques we have learned. This pilot project will help us identify costs and a blueprint to build manageable and affordable hogans with and for our comrades and community moving forward. This is landback in its truest form. Defending and carrying on the work of our ancestors at a pivotal moment when the climate is changing and our rights are being stripped from us. We are not creating something new but reconnecting to regenerative and ancestral Diné values and principles.
Aside from the building project, we will continue to report back to our local Indigenous community on the state and federal government Environmental Justice policies and our research and findings on the fossil fuel contamination of the land, air and water. It is vital that we educate our communities in our language while acknowledging that as a sovereign nation we have other governments (state and federal) that we have to hold accountable. We are currently working with a group of Diné elders to create a Diné climate change toolkit. We will also highlight our “Love on the Land” initiative as one example of place-based solutions.
Our Love on the Land Initiative builds bridges, bonds and supports new engagement with real-time climate solutions by creating accessible toolkits and replicable building plans for sustainable living. These free resources foster abundance in collective knowledge and skills as the perfect antidote to the rapacious and extractive dynamics of capitalism. The finished homesteads serve as pilot structures,safe, grassroots, community spaces in which to develop, organize, learn, teach and hold ceremony. Homesteads address burnout in our organizing communities by providing our comrades with an ancestral place to dwell on our homelands and a rooting to land and community that is critical to building strong organizers to defend and carry on the work of our ancestors.
Sites for our pilot homesteads are chosen based on community need as well as our personal relationship to local community, family, and land. Our deep listening practice in relationship to both land and community informs our solutions at every step. Direct community engagement in workshops, ceremony and continued mutual aid efforts affirms this practice. We witness growth and change as our community members show up to work and sweat alongside us at each build. Spending hours together on the land working, sharing food, skills, challenges and laughter is a safe and decolonial way for our community to reconnect with the land and invites the generation of new ideas for transition and resilience through increased trust and understanding.
Moving beyond local community engagement, this initiative is designed to be replicable and scalable with the objectives of remediating land and creating sustainable homes and building knowledge for different terrains and ecosystems. Throughout the past few years, we have been told we are wrong, crazy or too radical or that these extractive industry developments on our homelands are “safe” or “green.” Everything we do is in defense of the land and water. This is us, reclaiming our #landback. As Diné agitator Klee Benally once said, “Land back is the healing and restoration of mutuality with the land. It is the liberation of occupied stolen land. It is the unsettling and abolition of colonialism.” Our hope is that our work can be an inspiration and impactful in a global context of climate justice and Indigenous self-determination.
We would also like to acknowledge and give much gratitude to our dear allies, accomplices and relatives that truly show up for us. Thank you for being an important part of our story. A special shout-out to SURJ-Northern NM chapter, Earth Care/YUCCA, Quivira Coalition, the New Mexico Foundation and the NDN Collective. Ahéheé!
Kimberly Smith is an activist, organizer and citizen scientist from the Diné Nation. She is the founder of Indigenous Goddess Gang, an online magazine curated to reclaim traditional and healing knowledge from an Indigenous feminist lens.