Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

November 4, 2013

Navajo Pueblo Nuclear Holocaust Focus of International Uranium Film Festival Southwest


By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

The International Uranium Film Festival will feature two films focused on the Navajo and Pueblo areas where both Navajos and Pueblos were -- and are -- victims of Cold War uranium mining and radioactive tailings left behind. 

Navajos and Pueblos were sent to their deaths without protective clothing, even though the US government and mining companies knew of the dangers of radiation.

The poisoning of the people did not end there. The dust from the uranium mines blew across their food drying in the sun. The women washed clothes filled with radioactive soot. The runoff poisoned both the wildlife, including the deer that was food, the waterways, and the people.

The legacy of death continues today, as radioactive tailings remain scattered across this region of Pueblos and the Navajo Nation, between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Flagstaff, Arizona.

In the Navajo communities of Cove and Red Valley, near Shiprock, N.M. every family had members stricken with respiratory diseases, cancer and other rare diseases. One elderly Navajo woman in her 80s was living in a radioactive hogan, built with radioactive stones.

The film, Dii'go To Baahaane Four Stories about Water, in Dine' (Navajo) with English subtitles, and the film Tailings, will be shown at the Uranium Film Festival in Albuquerque. Schedules are still being prepared for the festivals in Santa Fe, and in Window Rock on the Navajo Nation.

Manny Pino, Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico is a longtime activist exposing Cold War uranium mining and the existing radioactive contamination on Acoma and Laguna Pueblos. Pino is a professor at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona.

During testimony before the Indigenous Peoples Tribunal for Leonard Peltier in October in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Pino explained that sacred Mount Taylor is near the Jackpile Mine, which operated for 30 years, and became the largest open pit uranium mine in the world.

Pino pointed out that the Four Corners area was declared a "National Sacrifice Area." It was Treaty land. Pino showed a map revealing that uranium mining is concentrated on Indian lands in the west.

Pino described how he became active in this struggle because of his own family. "My father, uncles, cousins, numerous relatives, worked in the mine from Acoma and Laguna Pueblos where I'm from."

Many waterways, rivers and watersheds of Indigenous Peoples, utilized for drinking water, are in this region where uranium mining has been concentrated. The result was the water has been contaminated and cancer began appearing in the Pueblos and elsewhere.

There are over 180 uranium mines in the Black Hills that have not been cleaned up. About 1,200 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation have not been cleaned up.

The Grants Mineral Belt in the area of Acoma and Laguna Pueblo in northwestern New Mexico is another area of contaminated uranium mining sites. Paguate, a village of 3,000 people in Acoma Pueblo, was heavily contaminated. Pueblo families were drying their food, drying their meat, as the dust of uranium blew over their food. They also grew their food on contaminated soil.

"They continued to graze their sheep and cattle." Analysis show radioactive contamination in the livestock, just as with the food.

Pino said the Rio Grande River is the lifeblood of New Mexico. It is the main drinking water source. However, the people of New Mexico are now drinking uranium contaminated water.

Further, he said there has been no successful reclamation of the Jackpile mine. The contamination continues and has been confirmed. Eight miles north of the Jackpile mine there is currently contamination. Pino said he has witnessed elk and deer drinking from the contaminated water. So, when Pueblos hunt elk and deer, and eat this, they too are contaminated.

Navajo uranium miners were mining without any protective clothing. The result is cancer clusters. Now the Pueblos and Navajos have some of the highest rates of cancer because of this Cold War uranium mining. 

Further, Lakotas in Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River in South Dakota are suffering from high rates of cancer because of uranium mining and contamination.

Navajos in the Four Corners area died in large numbers. It happened also on Spokane River, on Indian lands in South Dakota and areas of Canada. Native people died of cancer and respiratory diseases from the mining.

Navajos used radioactive rocks from uranium mining to construct their hogans. Further, the Church Rock Spill in New Mexico widely poisoned eastern Navajos.

"The majority of ore in the Southwest went to the US Department of Defense to make weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Pino said his people have been victims of the nuclear holocaust. "The workers brought the waste home on their clothing." Grassroots people were not educated as to the dangers.

Today, uranium mining is targeting the land of the Havasupai and the Grand Canyon, mining which will poison the Colorado River, the mother river of the Southwest.

During the nation's largest radioactive spill, the Church Rock uranium mill spill in New Mexico on July 16, 1979 poisoned Navajos' land and water. United Nuclear Corporation's Church Rock mill tailings disposal pond breached its dam and over 1,000 tons of solid radioactive mill waste, and 93 million gallons of radioactive solution, flowed into the Puerco River and flowed downstream and to the west, through Navajo communities in Arizona.

More at Uranium Film Festival, Traveling Festival:

Unwanted Neighbors: Nuclear and Chemical Warfare Testing and Operations on Indian Lands
by Brenda Norrell
December 20, 2004
DUCKWATER, Nev—Beyond genocide, the poisoning of ancestral lands of the Shoshone, Paiute and Goshute in Nevada and Utah constitutes ecocide, the death of all life forms, and punctuates the pivotal point in state-sanctioned environmental violence toward American Indians.
''The Western Shoshone are the most bombed nation in the world,'' said Ian Zabarte, secretary of state for the Western Shoshone Nation Council. Pointing out that the nuclear test site is on Western Shoshone ancestral land, Zabarte said nuclear testing and radiation has taken its toll on his people, but their land rights remain in tact, secured by the Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863.
''The United States has violated the very essence of this treaty by testing its nuclear weapons on our lands and people.''
Nuclear testing above ground and underground has been centered in the heart of Shoshone and Paiute lands in Nevada. Goshute in Utah and Nevada straddle the Dugway chemical warfare testing site. Nowhere in America has the damage to the environment and potential for human disease surpassed this U.S. warfare corridor.
The publication of new research in the American Sociological Review and a related review of Department of Defense data exposes the silent nuclear ecocide on Aboriginal lands and the systematic leasing and seizure of tribal lands for nuclear and explosives operations of the U.S. military.
''The Treadmill of Destruction: National Sacrifice Areas and Native Americans'', by Gregory Hooks and Chad L. Smith, reviews the legacy of the military operations on Indian nations and borderlands to Indian country. A review of DOD public data reveals a concealed and misleading history of environmental impacts in Indian country.
Nellis Range, the single largest gunnery range in the world, encompassing 3.5 million acres, was absorbed after World War II into the nuclear weapons complex in Nevada. Nellis and the nuclear test site, the largest militarized zone on earth, are the unwanted neighbors of Western Shoshone and Southern Paiute.
''The impact of these facilities upon Native Americans is not inconsequential because the Western Shoshone and Southern Paiute claim these lands both as a traditional homeland and as religious grounds,'' wrote Hooks and Smith in the article.
Although the U.S. military said this region of Nevada desert could be bombed into oblivion and no one would notice, Shoshone and Paiute did notice and continue to protest the ravaging of their homeland and poisoning of their land, water and air.
Writing of the legacy of war and racism, Hooks and Smith said World War II brought the maturation of chemical warfare and the birth of nuclear weapons. The result was a lasting environmental scar on Indian tribes.
When military sites in New Jersey and Maryland proved too small and the areas too populated to access large-scale toxicity, the military chose Dugway Proving Grounds in northwest Utah, located dead center between the Skull Valley Goshute in Utah and the Goshute Reservation in Nevada.
Dugway became the major installation for field-testing chemical agents. Airplanes sprayed mustard gas and carried out large scale bombing of phosgene, cyanogens chloride and hydrogen cyanide bombs to determine the lethal concentration of gas.
Nationwide, unexploded ordnances - mines, nerve gases, toxics and explosive shells - contaminate as much as 50 million acres and have claimed at least 65 lives.
Most of Hooks and Smith's research refers to closed military bases. However, they point out the staggering potential for health and environmental dangers for American Indians in the present age of nuclear, chemical and biological warfare. For Indian country and the remainder of the nation, the present dangers are concealed for reasons of national security.
During the 20th century, the expansion of military bases on and adjacent to Indian lands was part of a ''deliberate and systematic assault on Indian peoples,'' and part of the intellectual warfare of boarding schools, relocation and assimilation designed to turn Indians into ''Americans,'' Hooks and Smith said.
Describing it as the ''callous expansion of the Pentagon,'' noxious military contaminants were placed in close proximity to American Indians, primarily in remote areas of the arid West.
The Department of Defense's own data, public at the DOD Native American Environmental Tracking Service online, is outdated and shows a mere fragment of the impacts on Indian tribes in Nevada and Utah.
For instance, the report for Death Valley Timbasha Shoshone shows possible contaminated soil and groundwater and destruction of cultural artifacts from the China Lake Weapons Center, an active site, and the Army's Fort Irwin National Training Center.
However, there is no DOD report for a large number of Indian tribes in Nevada and Utah. The DOD states there are no environmental impact reports for: Ely Shoshone; Las Vegas Tribe of Paiute; Moapa Band of Paiute; Yerington Paiute; Washoe Tribe; Te-Moak Bands of Western Shoshone: Battle Mountain, Elko, South Fork and Wells, all in Nevada, or the Northwestern Band of Shoshoni (Washakie) Indian Colony in Utah.
Even though the Moapa Band of Paiute were close enough for school children to watch the mushroom cloud of atomic bombs with unprotected eyes, the DOD has no report of impacts on Moapa Paiute in the NAETS report.
As a child, Phil Swain, Moapa Paiute, watched atomic bombs explode in the desert, 40 to 50 miles from homes of Moapa Paiute.
''They would tell us in school when there was going to be a blast, we would go outside and watch it. It looked like a big mushroom cloud,'' Swain said. There were also underground nuclear blasts.
''The ground would settle like a big saucer. They said it never leaked out, but it did. A lot of our people died from cancer.''
On the DOD NAETS site, the environmental hazards include Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone with possible soil and groundwater contamination from the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Fort McDermitt, established in 1865 along the Quinn River, is the longest active Army fort in Nevada.
In this region of atomic bombs and chemical and biological warfare testing, the DOD's reports of undetonated bombs and plane debris presents a mere fragment of the holocaust for Shoshone, Paiute and Goshute.
Still, there is more to come. A nuclear waste storage site is under construction on Yucca Mountain, which was secured by the Western Shoshone in the Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863. The nuclear waste would be transported though the backyards of America, including Indian country, with the potential of deadly truck or rail accidents for 30 years. 

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