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Spider Rock in the de Chelly Canyon. A sacred place. This is where the Spider Woman is said to have taught the art of weaving to the first human. "Dineh" - human - is what the Navajos call themselves to this day. At 200,000 people, they are the largest tribe of native Americans.

For the Navajo, their land is sacred. They view it as bedded between the protecting parents, "Mother Earth" and "Father Sky". Mother Earth nourishes the people with corn, water and grazing land. Father Sky provides the necessary rain for people, animals and plants.

The Navajo came to the de Chelly Canyon about 300 years ago. But it was already populated much earlier. This is the "White House", a pueblo, about 800 years old.

The cliffs of the de Chelly Canyon served the Navajo as a natural defence against their enemies. And enemies they had, at all times. First the Spanish, then the Mexicans, and finally the Americans. In 1864 the US Cavalry, led by Kit Carson, deported and imprisoned 8,000 Navajo, after bitter fighting.

Aaron White, a descendant of those exiles. Aaron works in construction on the Navajo reservation, the largest interconnected reservation for native Americans in the United States. This very soil was awarded to the Navajo by the US government in 1900. As far as the government was concerned, this once and for all solved the tiresome "Indian Question".

Aaron is working on the expansion of the shopping mall in Tuba City, one of the largest towns on the Reservation. He himself lives in Flagstaff, because, as he says, "there's just nothing going on" on the reservation.

Tuba City - there's a main street with McDonald's, a laundromat for the 5,000 inhabitants, a Truck Stop for passers-through and an Indian Market every Friday. On the converted parking lot you can find medicinal herbs, jewellery by the pile and mutton sandwiches. Navajo tradition in modern American surroundings. The result of a painful cultural assimilation.

Horses in front of the Tuba City trading post. Built in 1870, the oldest building in town. Nowadays, it's a place for tourists to buy souvenirs. In earlier times, the Trading Post had a much more important function.

For these native peoples, living in isolation, the trading post was the first continuing connection to the outside world. The traders didn't only buy and sell goods - exporting rugs and jewellery, and importing modern American products. They also mediated disputes, wrote letters, carried the mail and acted as pawn brokers when funds were insufficient.

Aaron White's finished work for the day. Whenever he can, he gets together with his friends to play music. "Burning Sky" is the name of the band, which plays a mixture of native American and western-style music. Not without success - Burning Sky has already put out two CDs.

Aaron and his friends try to make music that has its roots in the real life of today's Navajos. They refuse to adopt popular cliches.

Aaron: "That's not native American, that's Hollywood. You know, native people have a lot more deeper feeling. They sometimes can speak through silence, you know, just by action and their presence."

The members of "Burning Sky" are Aaron White on guitar, Kelvin Bizahaloni on traditional flute and "Paleface" Michael Bannister on drums. How does the so-called "white enemy" fit into the group?

Kelvin: "Michael, we think, is a really good drummer. You know, we like having him in the group and his personality, is really ... you know, it's fun to be around with him, just like Aaron. So that's probably what bonds us together as a group."

The piece they're rehearsing at the moment is called "Indian Wars". A delicate subject, especially for Michael.

Michael: "Especially for someone like me, being in a group, where they should have to learn respect. You have to have respect for those things. And it seems like a lot of people in the white culture have lost that respect. They just want to trample over traditions and stuff. They don't think about it."

The office of the "Community Action for Children and Youth" in Tuba. This is where volunteer youth work is organized. For a long time, Vanessa Brown has been dedicated to improving the range of activities for the reservation's children. There are not enough playgrounds or youth activities. And, of course, not enough money. The volunteer workers have not seen one cent from Washington. But Vanessa doesn't let that discourage her - the main thing is the children, the future of the Navajo in Tuba City.

Vanessa: "With nothing to do and just a lot of idle time, they can find a place to where drugs are sold. There's plenty of bootleggers, although alcohol is illegal on the reservation. There's places they can go and find fun, you know, in a negative way, because of nothing to do."

Boredom creates crime violence. Gang wars and drugs have also come to the dreary reservation settlement. The government provides the people with homes, schools and a hospital - but what's missing in Tuba City and the other towns on the Navajo reservation are jobs, especially for young people. The unemployment rate is 50% and welfare is the main source of income. For many native American children, Navajo country offers no future perspective.

Carved rocks, somewhere in the desert near Tuba City. Vanessa Brown brings children here from the town, to explain the meaning of the symbols. In this way, the Navajo culture can stay alive as a part of their identity. Vanessa passes on what she heard about the mysterious signs on the rocks from her mother and grandmother. Story-telling has a long tradition with the Navajos. In winter, the children often hear stories all night long about the magical Cochina doll or about the adventurous coyote, who loves to play tricks. For Vanessa, this is as much a part of education as physics classes in college.

Vanessa: "Our greatest challenge with our children is trying to stay afloat in two worlds. Like one foot in one canoe, the modern world - your education, getting a job, you know, survival. Yet the other foot in another canoe, carrying your traditions and your roots, your language. You stand too far on one side, you'll fall. Same, vice versa. If you lose your identity and only go in the modern world, then again you'll fall. So they have a great challenge - to carry these two paths as one."

Native American culture has a unique mode of expression. A children's song in Dineh, the language of the Navajo.

Despite all the problems, Vanessa doesn't give up "the culture which," as she says," gives us strength and makes us unique."

Code Talker: "The messages that the generals usually'd give us - here's one goes like this: "Enemy bombers are bombing hill number two." And then we'd just translate that to the Navajo.There is a word for "hill" in Navajo - like, you know, a hill like that but we didn't use that, because it's too common. We use "hill", we'd go back to the alphabet. "H" is a horse. And then there's another word. The "H" stands for "horse" in the alphabet, the coded alphabet. And the "ill" is a sick person, so we call that "sick" - "sick horse". Anytime they say "Klingdadsa" - that's Navajo - you know it's H-I-L-L. And then there's a number - number two ... That's how it's coded."

The Navajo Code Talkers. A special unit of the U.S. Marines in World War II, which saw action in the Pacific. Based on the Navajo language, they developed a code for transmitting news and orders. It was the only code that the Japanese never cracked. With their language, which they were actually not even allowed to speak any more, the Navajo Code Talkers helped the U.S. government win the war against Japan. One of them, Merril Sandoval, recalls his school days, when the culture of the native Americans was supposed to be wiped out.

Code Talker: "We had to march to school. Either to school, or to chow, or to church. And the reason that we had to learn English (was) because we didn't speak it to begin with, so they had to teach us. We had to learn, but we still had Navajo in us and just by nature we'd start talking Navajo to each other sometimes. But if you'd get caught, you know, by teachers or matrons or supervisors, you'd get punished for it."

The teachers did not hesitate to punish the children. Merril Sandoval once even had a piece of soap put into his mouth for speaking the language that was later to be so useful during the war. It was not until the 1950s that the native Americans were given - by way of reward, as it were - full civil rights in the country for which they had fought. Today, Merril is retired and proud of his military past. Vegetable growing is his hobby. He gives the corn that he harvests to relatives, who use it for rituals, dances and prayers.

Open Air Festival in Flagstaff. Burning Sky is performing "Indian Wars". The song tells of the Navajo ...

Song "Indian Wars":

Out in the desert With the wind and the stars A few simple people Try to grow up their crops, Try to retain their life and their home, For the land was theirs Before the Romans thought of Rome.

A few dozen survivors Ragged, but proud, With a few woolly sheep Under gathering clouds.

It's never been easy Free from strife Because the land Deserves a better life.

Aaron's grandmother lives out in the desert in an eight-sided Hogan, the traditional Navajo house. Grandma is a master of the old Navajo art of rug weaving. She lives the old Navajo life that Aaron sings about.

Aaron: "It's like coming home, you know. I remember when I was small, you know, we used to come down. Because we grew up in an urban area, but we would come visit during the summertime. You know, we'd have to herd sheep, you know, we'd have to cook for ourselves. And my dad would take my grandma to town, we'd have to stay behind, even though we wanted to go. But once we got over the fact that we wanted to leave too, we had a great time. We played on the rocks, we'd herd sheep, we'd haul water. And I think we were, like, probably nine, ten years old."

The roots of the Navajo: the land and the elders.

Marilyn: "You listen to your elderly people and, as a young person, you think about it before you say anything. So a lot of Navajo life is by observing, by listening. And that's the way you learn. And as a mother, myself, that's how I learned to teach my own children."

According to the legend, "Spiderwoman" taught the Navajo the art of weaving. This art, the patterns and the colours, are passed on from generation to generation.

Rug weaving was and is the most important handicraft of the Navajo. From the shearing of the sheep to the spinning, dying and weaving, about 350 hours of work go into a three-by-six foot rug.

Today, however, the traditional life of the Navajo exists practically only on old postcards. There are hardly any of the semi-nomads left. Only the age-old matriarchy has to this day remained a guideline for life in society.

A silversmith at work. The Navajo learned this art from the Mexicans. Since the 1920s, silver jewellery from the Navajo country has been appreciated all over the world. Wealthy tourists have made it a major source of income on the reservation. In countless roadside stands, necklaces, rings and amulets await buyers.

The jewellery stands are especially numerous around the sight-seeing highlights of Navajo country. Tradition meets tourism, not always a happy combination.

There is a lot to see in the big land of the Navajo. Although - somehow, somewhere - everybody has already seen the legendary landscapes.

A stone's throw from Monument Valley we find a traditional clay Hogan whose occupant has pointed his antenna westward.

Inside the Hogan, it's relatively cool, despite outdoor temperatures of over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The old Navajo knew how to build for survival in the desert. From the old people, Leroy also learned the art of jewellery-making. He sells mostly to tourists. Leroy is a wanderer between the worlds. He tries to combine the "American way of life" with native American values. You can buy his jewellery with credit card, but the raw material for his work is melted silver coins, just as in the old days.

A trip into the Black Mesa - for traditional Navajo, a sacred plateau.

Leroy is nervous. He's unpopular with certain people in this area. He suspects pursuers in every car.

A coal mine in the middle of the Black Mesa. This is the reason for Leroy's trip - and also the reason for his fear. The issues at stake here are water, land and this woman. Maxine Kescoli lives in the middle of the Black Mesa and she's in the way of the coal mine. The road to Maxine's place goes right through the Black Mesa and is known only to her friends. Leroy is one of them.

Maxine's family has been living on this land for generations. They still live in the traditional style - and are opposed to the coal mine. Leroy and a few friends support them in their battle with the companies that have been active here for 30 years. Their goal is to stop North America's largest coal mining enterprise and prevent resettlement of the Mesa's remaining inhabitants. Since Maxine speaks only Dineh, the language of the Navajo, Leroy acts as translator - in court, for instance. Maxine refuses to get out of the steam shovel's path.

Maxine: "The mine people said to me that I should go away from here. But as a Dineh, I cannot leave this land. I pray to this land, to the trees, the grass, the sheep fodder. My prayers make this land sacred. And I pray to be able to stay here."

33 million gallons of ground water a day are pumped out of the Mesa in order to transport pulverised coal 250 miles through a pipeline to the Mohave Power Station. "Water that my sheep need," as Maxine says. But this conflict is not just about water and environmental protection. This is about modern civilization invading the life of the Navajo.

Along with bulldozers, the values of the white society came to stay in the land of the native Americans. They brought to the reservation not only modern machines, but also jobs, training, schools and money. Because of this, many Navajo take a more differentiated stand on the "sacred" Black Mesa issue. Teddy Begay, who is Navajo and works as an engineer for the coal company, explains his viewpoint.

Engineer: "I was not born in a hospital, I was born in a Hogan. And my mother's teaching was that .. she said, you know, the Holy Spirit put a lot of things into this earth and meant them to be utilized the best way that it can help mankind. We go back into our old silversmithing. We took the precious turquoise stones out of the earth. We've taken the metal out, the silver out of the earth."

Today they take valuable hard coal out of the earth. The Navajo government has leased the land to the company. A legally complicated matter. The "black gold" of the Navajo has been the topic of a year-long court battle. For Leroy, a conservation activist, the issue is clear:

Leroy: "And the suggestion of coal mining is that, you know, you're raping it or stabbing it and you're just doing it daily. And if you're, like, a Mother Earth, I don't know what's the feel about to being a Mother Earth. It's like somebody's going after your liver and wants it for money. It's not really in the good standard, being a Dineh, doing that."

Leroy's compromise with white values works like this: for good dollars, he allows inexperienced "Palefaces" to ride his horses across the "sacred land". In order to earn money, in order to survive, Leroy has no choice but to surrender the land. He speaks of "gentle tourism". Clearly, earning a living this way leaves fewer marks on "Mother Earth" than the steam shovels do.

"The gods of the white man". The power station on native territory - a symbol of the politics of conquest winning a final victory over a whole continent? The musicians from "Burning Sky" say no. "We pay tribute to our brothers and sisters who fought for this land. Their spirit guides us. We live on and will preserve our culture and our inheritance. We are the blood of this land."