Tribal members discuss the impacts of uranium industry

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights heard about the contamination of Native American lands by uranium extraction and milling during a thematic hearing on Wednesday in Washington D.C. The commission streamed the hearing on its  website as well as YouTube. Eric Jantz with New Mexico Environmental Law Center told the commission at the start of […]

Tribal members discuss the impacts of uranium industry

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights heard about the contamination of Native American lands by uranium extraction and milling during a thematic hearing on Wednesday in Washington D.C.

The commission streamed the hearing on its  website as well as YouTube.

Eric Jantz with New Mexico Environmental Law Center told the commission at the start of the hearing that the testimony from others would “bring to light a long overlooked issue how the US government has jeopardized the inherent rights to life, health, culture, environment and water of hundreds of Indigenous communities across the country in pursuit of a single mineral: uranium.”

“For decades, federal agencies have understood that unmediated and inadequately remediated uranium mines and mills pose a public health danger to those living nearby,” he said. “For even longer federal agencies have known that mine and mill waste have contaminated vast areas of land and huge amounts of water. Federal agencies have ignored or suppressed information about the dangers of uranium development.” 

He argued that the federal government rarely sought or obtained consent from tribes for uranium production both on and near tribal lands.

Jantz called for the United States to phase out ongoing uranium mining operations and institute a moratorium on future uranium extraction and processing on or near Indigenous lands.

“Growing up in the community, I remember riding horses and grazing the livestock,” Edith Hood, Diné, said. “When the mines came, our community was forever changed.”

Hood is part of the Red Water Pond Community Association, which has been fighting for clean up and remediation of contaminated sites. 

“People began to leave after we discovered contamination in the community because we were afraid for the health of our children and our own,” she said, adding that only two of the original 11 families remain.

Hood said safe and secure environments are a human right.

Additionally, she argued that the government chose isolated areas where people spoke limited English as places where uranium extraction and processing would occur.

“The government was aware of the risk and the dangers, but failed and neglected to inform our people,” she said. “As it is, the federal government puts Indigenous people at risk, never returning to check on the people and the land.”

Teracita Keyanna, Diné, is also a member of the Red Water Pond Community Association.

She said her family has been exposed to uranium in their home and that exposure has caused significant health problems including cancer, autoimmune disease, skin issues, liver and kidney diseases and learning delays in children.

Eventually, Keyanna left the reservation, or, as she puts it, was displaced.

She moved to Gallup where she knew her children would be safe from uranium exposure.

“But when you move off of your tribal lands, your ability to practice your language in your culture becomes more and more challenging,” she said.

Keyanna said her community and people deserve justice both from the extractive industries and from the government that put them in harm’s way.

“Our children’s rights to a clean environment have already been affected. Our children’s freedom to practice their culture had been impacted before they were born,” she said.

Anferny Badback, a member of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe from the White Mesa community in southeast Utah, told about how ancestral remains were destroyed so that a uranium mill could be built.

The White Mesa mill is the only remaining conventional uranium mill operating in the United States.

Badback said few people feel safe drinking the tap water and instead buy bottled water.

“The water underneath the mill is becoming more and more polluted and is moving towards our community,” he said.

This has impacted the Ute ceremonies. Badback said they no longer drink spring water for ceremonial purposes. Additionally, they no longer hunt animals or gather plants near their homes.

And, Badback said, the White Mesa mill is no longer just a mill. Activists say the mill is being used as an unregulated disposal site for low-level radioactive waste.

Bryan Newland, the assistant secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, spoke about efforts to increase tribal consultation.

“Tribal nations have played an instrumental role in advancing the national security of the United States as well as global safety,” Newland, Ojibwe, said.

Those contributions, he said, include mining and processing of uranium ore for nuclear weapons. He said that is especially true for the Navajo Nation, the Western Shoshone and the Pueblos of New Mexico.

“Today, the process that we use to engage with tribal nations looks much different than the process the federal government used in the past,” Newland said.

Clifford Villa with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spoke about some of the efforts to cleanup the legacy contamination on tribal lands.

He said the U.S. EPA, in coordination with the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency, has identified 523 abandoned uranium mines and early cleanup actions have occurred at dozens of those sites.

Villa said that this year the EPA expects to select remedies for cleanup of sites in eastern Navajo Nation, including two places near Red Water Pond Road Community as well as the Northeast Church Rock Mine site and the Quivira Mine site. He said each of those sites will involve removal of more than a million cubic yards of material.

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied and dismissed the effort to challenge six laws enacted in 2023. The New Mexico Supreme…
Governor to call special session for public safety legislation this summer

Governor to call special session for public safety legislation this summer

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she will call the Legislature into a special session this summer to address public safety legislation that did…
Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List, a nonprofit that supports women candidates and reproductive rights, endorsed seven incumbents facing general election opponents in New Mexico legislative elections. All…
Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule Friday to designate two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances. Those two chemicals are perfluorooctanoic…
BLM finalizes controversial public lands rule

BLM finalizes controversial public lands rule

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management finalized its controversial public lands rule on Thursday. This rule is controversial because it allows for conservation leasing…
Haaland signs order protecting sacred lands near Placitas

Haaland signs order protecting sacred lands near Placitas

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed an order on Thursday to withdraw more than 4,200 acres of land in Sandoval County near Placitas from mineral…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …
Stansbury introduces judicial ethics bill on U.S. Supreme Court steps

Stansbury introduces judicial ethics bill on U.S. Supreme Court steps

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury announced a bill on Thursday that would, if enacted, establish judicial ethics to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Judicial Ethics…
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Effort to challenge six laws enacted last year comes to an end

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied and dismissed the effort to challenge six laws enacted in 2023. The New Mexico Supreme…
Vasquez calls out Republicans for ‘inaction’ on border policy

Vasquez calls out Republicans for ‘inaction’ on border policy

U.S. Rep. Gabriel “Gabe” Vasquez, a Democrat who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District along the U.S.-Mexico border, cosponsored a resolution on Monday calling…
Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

Politics and abortion, how much will it matter?

At the national level, abortion is still a high-stakes issue with both major presidential candidates talking about it in their campaigns, but it may…
Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

Two PFAS chemicals designated hazardous substances under Superfund law

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a final rule Friday to designate two types of PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances. Those two chemicals are perfluorooctanoic…
New Mexico Voices for Children has new leadership

New Mexico Voices for Children has new leadership

New Mexico Voices for Children, an organization that focuses on tax policy and how it impacts children in poverty, has new leadership. Gabrielle Uballez…
Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

Abortion fund provider rebrands and holds open house

An abortion fund provider unveiled a rebrand and offered an open house in Las Cruces to celebrate the organization’s new name, mission and values. …

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report