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Navajo Nation President Asks Congress To Honor Its Ban On Uranium Mining In Navajo Country

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troubleinwinter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-16-08 03:26 PM
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Navajo Nation President Asks Congress To Honor Its Ban On Uranium Mining In Navajo Country
Posted by Bobbieo, DU's own blogger 'Native Unity' for Native American news and issues

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Navajo Nation President Asks Congress To Honor Its Ban On Uranium Mining In Navajo Country

No More Divide And Conquer!!!!!

Navajo President, Joe Shirley Jr., On Uranium Mining - No More Divide And Conquer!
By Kathy Helms
Dine Bureau
WINDOW ROCK Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., testifying Wednesday in Washington, asked members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to respect the Nation's tragic experience with uranium mining and to honor its ban on uranium mining within Navajo Indian Country.

I will not allow dividing and conquering the Navajo people to remain a profitable strategy, he told the committee chaired by U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and co-chaired by ranking Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici as it heard testimony on abandoned mines, hardrock mining and reform of the 1872 mining law.

The hearing coincided with a lawsuit filed Wednesday by the public interest law firm Earthjustice, representing groups in New Mexico, Nevada, Illinois and Idaho, which seeks to close a loophole currently allowing mining companies and other polluting industries to skip out on costly cleanups by declaring bankruptcy. :

From 1944 to 1986, 3.9 million tons of uranium ore were dug and blasted from Navajo soil, nearly all of it for America's atomic arsenal. Navajos inhaled radioactive dust, drank contaminated water and built homes using rock from the mines and mills. Many of the dangers persist to this day. This four-part series examines the legacy of uranium mining on the Navajo reservation.

Four-part Los Angeles Times series, November 2006:

A peril that dwelt among the Navajos

During the Cold War, uranium mines left contaminated waste scattered around the Indians. Homes built with the material silently pulsed with radiation. People developed cancer. And the U.S. did little to help.

Oases in Navajo desert contained 'a witch's brew'

Rain-filled uranium pits provided drinking water for people and animals. Then a mysterious wasting illness emerged.

Navajos' desert cleanup no more than a mirage

Through a federal program, decontamination seemed possible. But delays and disputes thwarted the effort.

Mining firms again eyeing Navajo land

Demand for uranium is soaring. But the tribe vows a 'knockdown, drag-out legal battle.'

Do check the multimedia photo galleries for each section here:

A few followup articles:

Still no toxic cleanup plan for Navajos
The EPA plans to resume long-stalled testing for uranium mine hazards, but a coordinated federal strategy is still lacking, lawmakers told.

Navajos seek funds to clear uranium contamination
Tribal officials ask Congress for $500 million to deal with wastes left by mining for bombs, nuclear power plants.

Enron prosecutor takes on Navajo uranium cleanup
The tribe hires John C. Hueston to press the U.S. to remove toxic material from its land.

I know many of the people profiled and quoted in the article. I spend time in their homes and villages/towns. Each family must drive over dirt roads long distances EVERY DAY to draw water for thier flocks and themselves from a deep well at the trading post because their own wells, ponds and streams are poisoned.

We complain about the price of gas. One woman said to me, "We feel the gas prices before anyone else. When gas goes up, the tourists don't come so we have less income, and we still have to go far for our water."

I know a very old woman who is a widow of a uranium miner who died of uranium poisoning. The government admits that she is due compensation. She has waited more than 30 years to get through the red-tape. She wants the money before she dies so she can have a deep well drilled for her community so they can have good water. She is 95 now.

Rep. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) is now running for U.S. Senate, and has a deep understanding of the issue and has worked closely with the Navajo on Uranium cleanup.

Howard Shanker is running for Congressman in District 1 of Arizona that encompasses the AZ portion of the Navajo reservation. He is an attorney who has worked with the Navajo (accompanying them to Washington DC for testimony at Rep. Waxman's hearings) on this issue and other environmental issues.

From candidate Shanker's site:

Uranium Contamination
Many of you have read about the testimony in recent Congressional hearings presented to Rep. Henry Waxman, Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, regarding the legacy of uranium contamination on Navajo land. For decades, the Navajo Nation and many grass roots organizations have been trying to address this human tragedy in real terms -- with only marginal success.

Hopefully, one of the defining moments of this struggle took place last week. As one of the attorneys representing the Navajo Nation on the uranium contamination issue, I had the privilege of working with the Navajo delegation to help prepare them for this hearing. I was also honored to attend the hearing in Washington, D.C. and to monitor the testimony and questions first hand. In spite of ongoing discussions with the Bureau of Indian Affairs ("BIA"), the Department of Energy ("DOE"), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"), and limited clean up of specific areas, this was the first sense I had that something meaningful may actually be accomplished that this tragic legacy of contamination may eventually be addressed on a large scale.

An L.A. Times article from November 2006 first alerted Chairman Waxman to the plight of the Navajo - not the fact that the federal government had utterly failed to address this mess for decades. As outlined in the L.A. Times article, "from 1944 to 1986, 3.9 million tons of uranium ore were chiseled and blasted from the mountains and plains. The mines provided uranium for the Manhattan project, the top-secret effort to develop an atomic bomb . . . private companies operated the mines, but the U.S. government was the sole customer. . . . As the Cold War threat gradually diminished over the next two decades, more than 1,000 mines and four processing mills on tribal land shut down." The radioactive waste and debris from these operations, however, largely remains. People live in and around uranium-contaminated areas. Livestock grazes and children play amongst radioactive waste and debris. There is a palpable threat of radioactive contamination to the ground water in many areas.

At the hearing, Edith Hood, while choking back tears, talked about the mining waste near her home in the Church Rock area, and the sickness and illnesses that plagued her and her family. These sentiments were echoed by Larry King and Ray Manygoats. Phil Harrison, although a Navajo Nation Council Delegate, testified as to his personal experience with uranium contamination. George Arthur, also a Council Delegate, testified in his capacity as the Chairman of the Navajo Natural Resources Committee. Mr. Arthur made it clear to the Committee that enough study has been done. It was now time for the federal government to take action to address this ongoing human tragedy. Stephen Etsity, the head of the Navajo EPA, managed to bring Navajo soil (from the Tuba City area) into the hearing chambers, where he used a device to demonstrate the existence of gamma radiation.

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