It’s with heavy hearts that we send our condolences to the Tó’aheedlíinii Naakai Dine’é family of Ts’í’ii Bitó. Mae Wilson Tso passed on January 12, 2021, at the age of 83 years old. She was a prominent figure in the Black Mesa region for being a weaver, a pastoralist, an herbalist, and, most notability, a defender of the sacred. Mae saw how extractive industry ravaged Black Mesa, resisted, and eventually saw its end before her passing.
In 1988, Mae and other Diné matriarchs of Black Mesa, Roberta Blackgoat, Anne Holmes, Katherine Smith, Jenny Manybeads, etc., sued the United States Government. The case was titled “Manybeads v. the United States,” and it was in response to the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-531). Mae and others refused to sign as not to be relocated to the New Lands in Sanders, AZ, or elsewhere. If the U.S. Government relocated Mae and others, they would have lost the songs, prayers, and stories connected to their birthplace. With these losses, they were severing their birthright to practice their traditional Diné lifeways. In 1996, the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute Settlement Act was amended as a result of their pleas. Although this was not the desired outcome, Mae and others were allowed to remain on their homelands under a 75-year lease agreement.
Guided by the strength, courage, prayers, and love for the land, the Diné matriarchs of Black Mesa remained in their birthplace. We attribute our organization’s establishment to these Diné land defenders, clan carriers, and water protectors. Mae was one of our original founding advisors to our organization and always encouraged us to keep the safety and wellbeing of Black Mesa at the forefront. We will continue to honor her legacy.
Ahéhee’ to the following individuals for making this post possible. Betty Tso, Juanita Tso, and Calvin Tso for allowing us to share their mom’s story. Percy Deal for his knowledge and first-hand account of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, Relocation, and extractive industry presence on Black Mesa. Kenji Kawano for capturing these historic photos, and Jared Tso, Latrice Billie, and Rachel C. T. Cox for their heartfelt photos of Mae before her journey. Áshinee’ nihimá.