Honoring the life and work of Klee Bennally, with co-host Jacqueline Keeler


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Multi-talented Dine' anarchist was an uncompromising activist, musician, writer and artist


From obituary in the Arizona Republic:

Klee Benally, Navajo environmental and tribal sovereignty activist, died Dec. 30 in a Phoenix hospital, according to the Associated Press. His family did not disclose the cause of death.

Benally, 48, was an environmental and social activist as well as an acclaimed artist. He was a talented silversmith and a founder of the award-winning Indigenous punk rock group Blackfire along with his sister Jeneda and brother Clayson. The group, rooted in both Navajo traditional music and punk rock, railed against cultural, environmental and social injustice. He moved on to become one of Indian Country's strongest advocates for preserving sacred spaces, cleaning up abandoned mines, supporting Indigenous peoples' rights and reclaiming the Earth's health.

Benally, the son of Navajo medicine man, Hoop Dancer and cultural performer Jones Benally and Berta Benally, a folk singer of Russian-Polish Jewish heritage, was born in Black Mesa on the Navajo Nation in 1975. He and his siblings grew up playing music, and formed Blackfire in 1989. Their first EP was produced by C.J. Ramone of the punk rock band The Ramones, and featured Jones Benally and musician Robert Tree Cody. Joey Ramone contributed to Blackfire's album "One Nation Under," which won several Native American Music awards.

After the success of Blackfire, Jeneda and Clayson formed a new band, Sihasin, while Klee Benally moved on to full-time activism and advocacy work. He founded the Native anarchist organization, Indigenous Action, which works with environmental justice groups like Haul No!, the mutual aid group Táala Hooghan Infoshop and Protect the Peaks as well as non-Native environmentalists. The nonprofit provides support through strategic communications and direct action to preserve Native sacred lands. The organization also provided mutual aid during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to support aid efforts to unsheltered people and other Native people in need.

Benally could be found on the front lines of many struggles including the ongoing effort to stop partially treated effluent from being used to make artificial snow on Dook’o’oosłiid, the San Francisco Peaks. He also became involved with the Havasupai Tribe's fight to close Pinyon Plain Mine, a uranium mine located close to the tribe's most sacred places. And, he fiercely advocated for Native people living unsheltered and most recently, for a Diné high school student after a video was distributed on what the student and their family said was mistreatment from the school principal and a police officer. In December, the principal resigned from her post.

Benally recently published the book "No Spiritual Surrender: Indigenous Anarchy in Defense of the Sacred," in which he lays out how colonial politics affect Indigenous autonomy and the health of Nahasdzáán, Mother Earth. He also released a board game, "Burn the Fort," in which players team up to defeat colonial invaders. “Games can be powerful storytelling and teaching tools,” Benally said in advance publicity for the game. He also continued his music career as a solo artist.

Indigenous activists, environmentalists and Native musicians across the U.S. honored Benally via social media and statements made to The Arizona Republic.

Environmental activist and actor Dallas Goldtooth posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Benally was "a powerhouse of anti-colonial thought and action — ever ready to protect the land."

"Klee Benally was a fearless advocate and a leader who inspired us all," said Cora Maxx-Phillips. The Navajo Nation citizen who serves on a human rights commission has worked tirelessly beside Benally to preserve the sacred status of the San Francisco Peaks. Phillips said that Benally possessed compassion and resiliency, which he needed to fulfill the immense responsibilities he took upon himself. "Klee faithfully committed to these tremendous challenges to defending the Earth, the sacred mountain sanctuaries in an ongoing collective battle for the plant, animal life and where the medicine people made their offerings and prayers for homeostasis and reciprocity."

"Klee was truly one of a kind," said Ethan Aumack, executive director of the Grand Canyon Trust. He said that Benally was unrelenting in his pursuit of justice and was loved by many.

"Klee had a big heart and a very strong voice that spoke volumes for the injustice that has been done to Indigenous People and the land we call Mother Earth," Navajo/Ute musician Aaron White said on a Facebook post. He noted that Benally advocated for people and carried the flame for human rights.


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