Navajos gathered with Indigenous Peoples from throughout the Americas to plan strategies to oppose mining in September in Tucson. Censored blog readers say that the genocide resulting from mining is the second most censored issue in Indian country. It follows the number one most censored issue of the silencing of traditional and grassroots Indian voices. The following article appeared in the Navajo Times print edition and is republished online with permission.
It is the fourth in the series from the conference:
Cry from the top of the world, Arctic sea ice is melting
Peru's Indigenous Peoples arise in defense of Earth from mining
Mayans in Guatemala: 'No Compromise,' halt gold mining
Navajos join global effort to halt mining in Indigenous territories
By Brenda Norrell
Special to Navajo Times
TUCSON, Ariz. – Navajos joined Indigenous Peoples from the Americas to organize opposition to mining that is poisoning the air, water and land of Indian people, at the Western Mining Action Network Conference.
With the Bush administration accelerating the expansion of uranium mines, coalmines, power plants and oil and gas drilling, American Indians in the United States joined in solidarity to halt mining, during the conference held Sept. 28 -29, at the Hotel Arizona.
Louise Benally, Navajo from Big Mountain, said, “Mother Earth is going to be butchered if all these mining operations are admitted. The Indigenous Peoples must act because they are connected to Mother Nature and Mother Earth.
“Desert Rock is not a good plan. We already have four power plants in the area, we don’t need a fifth one. We need to establish a moratorium on coal mining and power plants, the same way we did with the moratorium on uranium mining.
“We need to stop the uranium mining on Mount Taylor. We need to stop all the uranium mining before we are left with nothing.
“All the beasts need to be removed,” Benally said in an interview. She said those “beasts” endangering the land and people include Navajo President Joe Shirley, Jr., Navajo Speaker Lawrence Morgan and the federal elected leaders in Washington D.C.
“We need tribal leaders that will honor the people over tribal profit,” Benally said, adding that tribal leaders often receive kickbacks to support corporations seeking leases.
“The Navajo Nation tribal government is not a ‘Navajo Tribal Government,’ it is a corporate-controlled business.”
Benally said Navajo politicians, in their campaigns, make promises that are thrown by the wayside once they are in office. There, they become corporate-controlled.
“They need to come off of their high horse. We need to preserve our resources for the future generations.”
Western Shoshone Carrie Dann, leading the fight against nuclear testing and gold mining in Shoshone territories that are guaranteed by the Treaty of Ruby Valley, agreed with Benally. Dann said the root of the problem for Indian Nations is the fact that the United States pressured Indian Nations to establish IRA governments in order for the federal government to control tribes. Dann said since the tribes are held in trust, then ultimately it is the Department of Interior who is in control and making the decisions.
“Whose interest is the BIA really protecting? It is the Department of Interior that provides the BIA’s bread and butter,” Dann said in an interview. Dann added that the U.S. Congress is just as much to blame as President Bush for the attacks on the sovereignty and natural resources of Indian Nations.
In Canada, Dene were victims of Cold War uranium mining, just as their relatives, the Dine’ in the south. Now, Flora Natomagan, Dene, of the Hatchet Lake Band, First Nation in Saskatchewan, said there are new threats of uranium mining in the region, traditionally used for fishing and trapping.
Natomagan, who previously served as chief, said the Dene people survive on the fish and caribou and never stop to ask if their food has been contaminated by uranium exploration and mining. Earlier, there was a spill at McLean Lake.
Now, with new uranium mining exploration, she said, “They always say it is safe, but we know it is not safe.” Dene now have high rates of cancer, asthma and other diseases, she said.
Traditionally, people have always moved seasonally for fishing, trapping and hunting caribou, living seasonally on the lakes. Now, with the climate changing, their lives are affected because the migration patterns of their food sources are changing.
Natomagan’s grandfather first noticed the change in the trees in 1972, when tree branches began pointing upward, rather than downward. “The trees changed their form and the environment began to change.
“The whole world sees it, but pretends not to see it,” she said of global climate change.
Twa-le Abrahamson, Spokane Nation youth with the grassroots SHAWL Society, said she came to the conference to learn from Navajos about how Navajos deal with the aftermath of Cold War uranium mining.
Although many of the Spokane uranium miners have died from cancer and other mining-related diseases, there are still those who remember the radioactive yellow dust brought home to the families. In one family, where six out of seven family members developed cancer, she said, “They remembered flipping the mattress over and the yellow cloud of smoke that came up.”
On the Spokane Nation, radioactive rocks from uranium mining remain in driveways and elsewhere, she said.
Indigenous Peoples came from as far away as Peru and Guatemala to organize opposition to mining and learn from one another’s struggles. Closer to home, Manny Pino, Acoma Pueblo and member of Laguna Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment, said recently the All Indian Pueblo Council in Albuquerque joined Navajos in opposing uranium mining and milling adjacent to Mount Taylor, sacred to tribes in the region.
Dailan Long, Navajo from Burnham Chapter, N.M., and member of Dine’ Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, said the expansion of the BHP Navajo Mine, by 17,000 acres, is among the concerns, as it violates protocol of the National Environmental Protection Act.
“They intend to expand the coal mines without letting the local people know,” he said. “When you burn coal, you produce ash, which is highly toxic. What they want to do is refill the mining pits with coal ash.”
Long said the Four Corners Power Plant has 40 tons of coal ash and San Juan Generating Station has another 50 to 60 tons of coal ash. “There is about 120 tons of unregulated coal ash sitting out there. It has been categorized as the largest mine fill site in the United States and it is sitting out there unregulated.”
Long said contamination is leaking from the site and draining into the communities, including Fruitland, Shiprock and Hogback in New Mexico. Now, he said, plans for the Desert Rock Power Plant are exposing the long-term effects of coal mining and power plants for Navajos. Mining effects include water issues, relocation, mine expansion, air quality and health, he said in an interview.
“This project is genocide,” Long said, referring to Desert Rock and the cumulative effects of coal mining and power plants on Navajo health and the environment in the Four Corners area.
Tom Goldtooth, Navajo/Dakota and director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said Indian people in the United States live in a society that has abrogated Treaty rights and disrespected sacred places.
While some struggle to find common ground on sustainable mining, Goldtooth questions if there are any methods to extract mercury, uranium, gold, copper or zinc from the earth in a way that respects the traditions of Indigenous Peoples.
"I haven't found any mining technology that is sustainable. Some aspect always contaminates our water, our earth, our air,” Goldtooth said in an interview.
Wahleah Johns, Navajo from Forest Lake and member of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, said the conference brought together Indian people from throughout Turtle Island affected by hard rock mining. Listening to personal stories offered strength and networking to halt mining.
“It is a great space to be in,” Johns said.
Photos by Brenda Norrell