Front Porch Blog

Prominent Navajo environmental leader to speak in Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina

Nicole Horseherder. Photo courtesy Tó Nizhoní Aní

“Coal once played a central role in Navajo and Hopi economies, but that is no more now.” These were the opening remarks of Nicole Horseherder, a Diné (Navajo) community leader in her testimony before the Natural Resources Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2021. Horseherder went on to explain how surface mines operated by Peabody Coal, and enabled by federal regulators, had damaged tens of thousands of acres and severely depleted groundwater resources on Navajo and Hopi land. In this way, her community shares much in common with Appalachian coalfield communities that Horseherder will be visiting soon.

Horseherder is the executive director of Tó Nizhoní Aní, a grassroots Diné organization advocating for the wise and responsible use of natural resources in the Black Mesa region of the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Nation (located in northern Arizona).

Tó Nizhoní Aní works for the full reclamation of mine-impacted lands and waters, and is central to efforts to hold Peabody Coal and the federal government accountable for the harms caused by mining on Black Mesa. Rooted in Diné culture, the organization centers Native voices from Black Mesa in local projects and campaigns to remediate the impacts of mining, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advance a just and equitable transition away from fossil fuel economies.

Along with Andrew Atencia and Adrian Herder, organizers for Tó Nizhoní Aní, Nicole Horseherder will be visiting Appalachia in March to teach and learn about the environmental justice movement in the coalfields of Black Mesa and Appalachia, respectively.

Horseherder, Atencia and Herder will be joined by Mary Cromer, of Appalachian Citizens Law Center, a Kentucky-based non-profit law firm working to protect the land and people from misuse and degradation caused by extractive industries, for a panel presentation entitled Sacred Water Speaks at 1 p.m. on Wednesday March 6, in the Dogwood Room of the Slemp Student Center at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. This event is free and open to the public.

Nicole Horseherder will also be featured on a panel on Indigenous activism and leadership in coalfield environmental justice projects at the Appalachian Studies Conference, to be held at Western Carolina University on Saturday, March 9 (conference registration required). At this event, she will be joined by Kentucky-based Tiffany Pyette, an independent artist and activist of Cherokee descent, associated with the Waymakers Collective; and by Taysha DeVaughan, Development Director of the Alliance for Appalachia, long-time leader with the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and a board member of Appalachian Voices. DeVaughan is a member of the Comanche Nation who lives in Southwestern Virginia.

If you’re able to attend either of these events, please do! For more information, contact

Support and partnership for Tó Nizhoní Aní’s visit to Appalachia has been provided by Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Alliance for Appalachia, Sierra Club, UVA-Wise Center for Appalachian Studies, UVA-Wise Lecture Committee, UVA-Wise Division of Advocacy and Opportunity, and Appalachian Voices.

A Virginia native who now splits his time between Johnson City, Tenn., and Wise County, Va., Willie has organized with environmental and social justice campaigns in the region for more than a decade. He is Appalachian Voices' Central Appalachian Field Coordinator.


  1. Ahéhee’! Thank you, Appalachian Voices’ for organizing this and those who contributed. We are excited to share and learn.

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