Who is scrambling to pick up the pieces?
Our day-to-day realities are changing in the US of A. As a nation we are united, but our decision criterion on creating environmentally sound judgments and decisions, creating and establishing effective long-term protocol, laws and legislature, while grasping and critically understanding that we are making adjudications that are game changers with serious consequences. “To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part,” quoted Aldo Leopold. Aldo Leopold really could not have hit the nail on the head more straight on. When the development and extraction of the uranium mining that started in the Four Corner Region, on the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation during the tail end of World War II, starting in 1944, those ignorant and ill prepared mining practices has now shaped the land into a place where relocation of families, their history are imminent and unavoidable. The Navajo, or the Dinè, are some of the poorest members of our country, who are scrambling to pick up the pieces of the destruction left behind from the mining companies of the past. “Life on the reservation is,” according to one Navajo leader, an “unending cycle of despair.” With the lack of education and the ever stinging need for legitimate commerce, hence the acceptance of uranium mining, the Dinè have been and will fighting an increasing uphill battle for generations to come.
Yellowcake, a nick name for the powdered forms of mined uranium is abundant in large underground reservoirs in the Four Corner region, and extracted since 1942 (in Monument Valley) using various boring procedures. Primarily unearthed for the U.S Government to develop nuclear weapons and nuclear power, and waste, or tailings from these operations are currently leading to the dislocation of many people from the homes due to the poisoned landscape and water. “There are more than 1,200 abandoned uranium mined that have been documented on the Navajo Nation, and of those, as many as 500 may need environmental restoration costing hundreds and millions of dollars." It was not necessarily the mining, the visible scars left to on the land, but the uranium ore left in the waste tailings is one that is seriously causing major destruction to the environment, peoples health and the water quality, all of these issues that need to be addressed promptly. These issues unfortunately are not disappearing and will not for many years to come. These tailing mounds are scattered everywhere among the Navajo and Hopi reservations, many indistinguishable are such toxic implosions of misadventure and mismanagement that the consequences of not dealing with these issues soon and competently, these people will begin to stress other factors in their economic developments in the desert South West. Since education, or the lack of and the lack of accessibility to current, up-to-date informational materials (no internet on the reservation, and a lack of cell phone towers) is a repeated factor on how the word of there destruction of uranium contamination is spread through out the Navajo Nation, it’s difficult to warn the people of these dangers of living near these highly contaminated yellow cake mines and waste tailing piles. “Navajo women living in the areas with uranium mines in New Mexico and Arizona were between two and eight time more likely to have a child with birth defects. This has led to a distinct disease known to this area specifically called the “Navajo Neuropathy”, with many who contract it do not survive past their teens let alone into childhood , average age is about ten years old. It has been described as “a rare and apparently unique neuropathic syndrome among Navajo children living on the Navajo Reservation, “ including documentation of austere symptoms including sensorimotor neuropathy, ulcerations, poor weight gain, short stature, sexual infantilism, serious systemic infections, and liver derangement. There is no direct link to uranium and radioactive mining, but it does lend it self to a genetic mutations that are unexplainable.
These uranium mines, since 1986, when the last one closed their doors, thirty years later they are dealing with these public health issues because the contamination is so wide spread, that it has now contaminated mega sections of land, air and water, and clean-up efforts have been attempted but few have been followed through. These mining practices has also affected the Dinè agriculture severely. Livestock that has grazed on this “Uranium Belt” has showed having significantly higher uranium and radium in their muscles and organs. “Federal agencies have developed a 5-year plan to investigate and clean up of high risk uranium mine and waste sites, contaminated structures and polluted water wells as a result of Congressional inquiries.” This only begins to touch base on the crisis of water, the shortages and how this arid area is already facing contamination of ground water, which is by far one of the most serious issues they are facing.
“These people have put their lives into the land”, “When the water goes so does the value of the majority of the land.” Without water there are no people, no agriculture, there is no value. On the Navajo nation there is over 27,000 square acres, most families and dwellings do not have running water, many whom travel great distances to get water, and even then the public access to clean, fresh water is hard. The wells at water stations are popping up with trace uranium contamination. The poisoning of the land now, and the susceptible nature to this fragile landscape to development and contamination, there needs to be national awareness and funding to continue the protest against future mining development but also a concentrated effort to make sure what ever radioactive elements is there to be removed in a manner where there are benefits to all parties, the environment and humanity. “Water is life, and when you take away our water, you take away our lives,” said Ed Becenti, a Navajo grass-roots organizer, one who had helped the halt of proposed uranium mining on Federal land around the Grand Canyon National Park. The Bill S.2109 was introduced this time last year in February, 2013. “A bill to approve the settlement of water rights claims of the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, and the allottees of the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe in the State of Arizona, to authorize construction of municipal water projects relating to the water rights claims, to resolve litigation against the United States concerning Colorado River operations affecting the States of California, Arizona, and Nevada, and for other purposes.” This is a bill that would alleviate the people’s rights, the Navajo and Hopi, from obtaining the little water they do have that is viable and hand it over to the Peabody Coal Mining Company, the Salt River Project and the Navajo Generation Station for no reimbursement back to the people of the Navajo Reservation and Hopi Tribe. These wells that are currently in area around the Peabody Coal mines and in “Uranium Row,” and the springs are still contaminated with uranium and other toxic heavy metals, a legacy of 40 years of mining.
Lenord Tsosie, Councilman of the Resources and Development Committee of Navajo Nation, is following the dollar instead of basic human rights to access water. As we move into the future economic times, the affects of the economy are really hitting the Navajo Nation and Hopi reservations hard, and these circumstances are pushing legislators to consider other ways of creating income, but not in the favor of the people. Tsoise, and a few of his councilmen are backers of the initiative to allow more uranium mining to be allowed on the reservation, despite laws that prevent those practices, giving the right-of-way to an out-of-state, South Texas company, Uranium Resources, Inc. (URI) to access tribal land to test for new uranium mining opportunities. Many are in protest and believe this is a terrible way to spend their monies, natural reoccurs and of course the abundant use of water. "My legislation doesn't poison Navajo water," Tsosie said. But many disagree, and many are not in favor of him or his governmental staff continuing the implementing structure of uranium mining in Navajo Nation where it does not benefit the people or future generations. One of the ways the company URI are trying to cut corners, finically and environmentally, is that they are “planning to change its cleanup standards by adopting less stringent ones used by the Department of Energy rather than those specified by the Environmental Protection Agency, essentially breaching its agreement with the tribe.” By doing this, they were able to finance their mining exploits while contaminating the on-surface water, groundwater, destroying and eliminating viable landscapes in which tribes have been dependent on for over 150 years. Tsosie reasoning for allowing this to propagate was that the groundwater was already contaminated with uranium and radioactive material, disregarding the concern of contamination of fresh water that is still in the area. In studies on the URI, in their home state, “citizens in South Texas are currently suffering from groundwater contamination from a similar project.”
I think that this situation of mining, the inevitable repercussions of such practices such as water and soil contamination, extreme and insensible legislators, the direction of awareness to these issues is heading south, quick. With the Navajo Nation, the largest reservation in the country, who already live in a third-world standards, their voice is far from being heard. The Navajo Nation government seems to be more interested in the income that is created by the destructive mining industries, and administrative pockets books than the sustainability of the land, the people of the reservation, while maintaining their existence in this area as a unique culture, to maintain their status as the ones who live and “walk in beauty” and want to keep it that way.