Coal Necklace for MATRIARCHS exhibit

AUG 5, 2021 TUCSON, AZ –

From October 2018 through January 2019, one of my creations was in the MATRIARCHS exhibit at the El Segundo Museum of Art (ESMoA). This exhibit was co-curated by two incredible indigenous matriarchs and favorite people of mine, Kristen Dorsey and Jaclyn Roessel.

The premise of the exhibit was to bring place/ land and a matriarch perspective together. So, I created a layered conversation piece about coal and juxtaposed it with video interviews that I had with my relatives.

MATRIARCHS | ESMoA Online. Photo credit: Cara Romero. Picturing skirt & necklace by Leah Mata Fragua, 2018.

The necklace asks the viewer to locate the single jet stone among the nine black coal from Black Mesa Coal Mine. Only one of the large black nuggets of stone is not coal, it is a raw piece of Acoma Jet. Jet is one of our four Dine’ sacred stones. Essentially, it is hard to tell the difference between the sacred stone among the extractive material. One is valuable to our core cultural beliefs while the rest are part of a monetarily valuable industry today.

The videos reveal three experiences with this coal mine, located near my hometown of Pinon, AZ, and shares my observation of the complexities of coal within my own family.

The inspiration behind this necklace is twofold as it brings my personal life and current academic work together. The personal element places the viewer in my position as cousin and granddaughter and it shares relevant work by one of many indigenous scholars today. The intention is to share one of the complexities of indigenous life behind our artwork.

Read on for more – N. (Note: this is a 2019 blog repost from another site to this site.)

About the NECKLACE

My community is located on Black Mesa of Diné Bikayah. It is located in the middle of our homelands and within the area of our four sacred mountains. Each mountain is represented by a stone: White Shell for the East, Turquoise for the South, Abalone for the West, and Jet for the North. The raw form of Jet looks like Coal. Jet is a type of lignite, a precursor to coal. Look at the photo above, it is the first bezel right of the pendant.

The coal for this necklace is from Peabody Black Mesa Mine. My Chei (mother’s father aka grandpa) worked at the coal mine and in the video he shares his experience and how coal led to his Black Lungs. The coal used for this necklace was obtained from my grandparents’ residence.


Coal is at the core of a complex social and cultural issue that provides a source of livelihood and allows people to remain on our traditional lands while they work. Otherwise known as “moral economy,” a term used by Andrew Curley, a geographer at University of Arizona and my husband, in his journal article, “T’áá hwó ají t’éego and the Moral Economy of Navajo Coal Workers.

The matter of coal is on-going and connects to a larger conversation of extractive industries on indigenous lands. A couple of Curley’s research articles are here and here.


Part 1 at Pinon, AZ – My brother/ cousin shares his environmental concerns and how the mine contrasted with our traditional beliefs. He worked with the mine.

Part 2 at Kayenta, AZ – My brother/ cousin-in-law reflects on the lack of water today due to the over usage by coal mine and stating that people will remain after extractive industries leave.

Part 3 at Pinon, AZ – My chei/ grandpa remembers the dust from blasting into the mine negatively affecting the surrounding environment and wasting water to transport coal out of the reservation. Lastly, he and masani/ my grandmother share coal burned longer than wood, which is scarce in their area – this led to his Black Lungs diagnosis. He worked with the mine.

The videos are between 5-9 minutes. All three videos total 22 minutes.

Additional video credit, Part 3: Tara Hardy.

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