Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Natives to meet to fight uranium development

By Diane Fowler
Beacon staff writer
Published Tuesday, October 13, 2009

ACOMA PUEBLO - Indigenous people from across North America will meet in Acoma in late October to launch a campaign to end recent efforts to resume uranium mining, which is seen as a threat to Indian lands in several Native locations across the country.

The Seventh Indigenous Uranium Forum was established in 1987 with conferences on the environmental and health effects of uranium development in the Grants Mineral Belt.

Since its inception the forum has developed as a vehicle for strategy development and coordination of communities along the lifeline of nuclear power, from uranium mining in Grants to nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

A statement from the forum reads, “The 7th Southwest Indigenous Uranium Forum will focus on the recent onslaught of exploratory measures to mine and mill uranium in the Grants Mineral Belt. Due to recent price fluctuations of uranium on the world market and U.S. policy still emphasizing nuclear power as an answer to global warming and climate change, we will inform and educate participants of local, national and international nuclear issues impacting Indigenous people.”

There will also be presentations on health issues affecting both mining and non-mining populations in the affected communities.

The forum was founded in the summer of 1987 when the Rural Tribal Enterprise Program of the University of New Mexico Gallup Campus held a series of conferences on the environmental and health aspects of uranium development in the Grants area.

In February of 1988, the group hosted a meeting with the Havasupai Tribal Government to address scores of uranium development proposals being promoted for the Red Butte area, a site sacred to the Havasupai on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

By 1990 the forum held its fourth annual meeting at Cove, Ariz. on the Navajo Nation. The legacy of uranium on the Navajo Nation has its roots in the Cove Chapter, where some of the earliest mines were located.

Some of the ore mined from the area was used for the testing of the first atomic bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II.

That meeting was co-hosted by the Navajo Radiation Victims Committee, an organization that oversees health impacts and human rights violations connected to the legacy of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation.

In 1993, the Fifth Indigenous Uranium Forum was held at Paguate Village on the Laguna Pueblo in conjunction with the Laguna Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment. The village is located within 2,000 feet of the Jackpile Mine, which grew to become the largest open pit uranium mine in the world during its 30 years of operation, according to the group.

The sixth forum was held in 1997 at Church Rock and Crownpoint on the Navajo Nation. The forum asserts that both these communities have suffered from the legacy of uranium mining in the late 1970s. In 1979 at Church Rock, a mill's tailings dam holding wall broke and released 94 million gallons of liquid radioactive water into the Rio Puerco, an event which is still considered the second worst nuclear accident in the country.

In 2000 SWIUF co-produced a documentary entitled “Radioactive Mines to Radioactive Weapons,” which was shown at the United Nations as an educational effort to help promote a ban on the use of depleted uranium. The ban was later endorsed by the international body.

The mission of the SWIUF is to address the impacts of the nuclear fuel chain on Indigenous peoples and is comprised of Natives, who serve as volunteers. The group gets input from medical professionals, scientists, legal experts and tribal spiritual leaders to educate and empower Native communities by all aspects of the nuclear fuel chain.

The Seventh Southwest Indigenous Uranium Forum will be held Oct. 22-24 at the Sky City Hotel and Casino.


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