Credit: Mano Cockrum
Credit: Mano Cockrum
Blackfire: Is this Justice?

“Is this Justice?” asks Blackfire, the “alter-Native” punk rock trio comprised of three siblings raised defending their homeland at Black Mesa - the site of a political land dispute in Navajoland.

The Diné (Navajo) group’s music creates dialogue and awareness about the genocide, ecocide, dislocation and human rights violations indigenous people face across the United States and internationally.

The band’s unique blend of punk rock, traditional Navajo music and hard-hitting socio-political lyrics was coined “fireball punk” by late godfather of punk Joey Ramone. During Ramone’s last project, he recorded back up vocals for two songs on Blackfire’s “One Nation Under” LP, released in 2002.

The internationally acclaimed band has always played all ages venues; sometimes, performing traditional shows with their father Jones as “Jones Benally Family.” The performance merges brother Clayson Benally’s Diné hoop dancing and the family’s traditional Diné songs.

Highly acclaimed internationally, the Benallys’ music career exists because of their dedication to preserving their culture and defending indigenous rights and sacred areas.

Klee Benally, lead singer and guitarist, organizes projects which create outlets for action, cultural sovereignty and give voice to marginalized Native American communities. He is the coordinator of Indigenous Action Media, whose purpose is “to provide strategic media support and action to directly address issues impacting Indigenous communities”.

Indigenous Action Media, in collaboration with Native Movement, spawned Outta Your Backpack Media, where Native youth receive film production training. Klee Benally trains Native youth in creating their own film projects.

The Benally family has been a part of the efforts to stop Snowbowl, a ski resort near Flagstaff, Ariz. from pumping wastewater from the City of Flagstaff to be made into artificial snow on the San Francisco Peak.

Save the Peaks is an organization of over 13 tribes or nations who hold the San Francisco peaks sacred in their worldview and have been spreading the message in simplest terms when chanting at protests and vigils, “No desecration for recreation!”

Dr. Catherine Propper, Professor of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, has done extensive research which concludes that wastewater, containing hormones and pharmaceuticals from the sewage effluent, is harmful to plants and wildlife. Some plants that grow on the peaks are used in traditional ceremonies or for medicines. The wastewater would also affect those who ingest the snow: whether children eating a snowball, or animals drinking contaminated water from the runoff. 

Years of court battles, rising to the Supreme Court level, have been lengthy, with victories short-lived. The U.S.D.A. Forest Service approved the pipeline construction to begin in May 2011 and they began the clear cutting of the forest by the end of June.

With construction under way, resisters locked themselves to construction equipment last August 2011; among those arrested was Klee Benally.

That month the Hopi Tribe sued the City of Flagstaff. Their lawsuit stated that the City's contract to sell 1.5 million gallons of wastewater per day to the resort is illegal because it violates several Arizona laws that govern the proper use of reclaimed wastewater.

Years of resistance has not weakened Save the Peaks, though the City of Flagstaff, U.S.D.A. Forest Service and Snowbowl show no intention of ending their plan.

Klee Benally made the wrenching documentary The Snowbowl Effect in 2005, documenting the struggle of Save the Peaks and explaining the issues of sacred sites protection and honoring the spiritual beliefs of sovereign nations and tribes.

Blackfire’s song “One Nation Under” speaks of those in opposition to indigenous self determination, sending a message to Snowbowl: “They will never make us stop.”

Learn more and keep current with updates on and Listen to Blackfire or purchase their album at


About author

Mano Cockrum's picture

Mano Cockrum is a Hopi/Diné artivist in the visual and sonic arts. She performs in her band Sounds For Fathers, and frequents shows to record video for her ManoART10 Youtube channel, featuring her favorite bands on her music blog

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