Blue Gap Navajos Want Action On Uranium Issues - Akwesasne: Native Pride
By Kathy Helms
BLUE GAP, Ariz. -- Not only are residents from the Blue Gap/TaChee Chapter suffering from radiation-related illnesses, the chapter house is sick too, according to Navajo Nation Council Delegate Raymond Joe.
The chapter hosted a uranium work session last week where residents presented their concerns to David Taylor, an attorney with Navajo Department of Justice, and Delegate Phil Harrison, who has been working with Navajos for nearly 30 years to help them obtain federal compensation for radiation-related illnesses.
A Navajo Nation delegation is headed to Washington July 7-9 to lobby for a third amendment to the federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, or RECA, which if enacted, would expand the list of compensable diseases and benefits for Cold War uranium workers. It also would expand the number of downwind counties impacted by above-ground atomic testing at Nevada Test Site and increase benefits to “downwinders” from $50,000 to $150,000.
Harrison told the audience that every time there was an atomic test, the wind was blowing toward Blue Gap, and not west toward California. “They were protecting Marilyn Monroe. They were protecting John Wayne,” he said, jokingly. The new amendment seeks to include San Juan and McKinley counties in New Mexico, and Montezuma County in Utah.
Sadie Bill of Blue Gap raised concerns that RECA only covers uranium workers and downwinders.
“You never talk about where the people lived in the area when the mountains were being blown up. The dust settled on our food and on our hogans and on our livestock. The people that worked there is the only people that are covered. What about us? We lived right under the mining while they were dynamiting the mountains.”
Harrison said Congress was made aware of “take-home uranium” and the impact it had on family members. “We showed them the death certificates. They died from the same lung disease. I think the biggest problem is any legislation that has money attached to it, it's hard for them to undertake that. That's what I was told.
“The Navajo Dependents of Uranium Workers are going to Washington July 28-31 to visit with congressional people. They're going to ask what can they do for the Navajo people, whether studies can be done or whether legislation can be developed for compensation,” he said.
“If we're so ineligible for compensation, why can't they come out here and clean up that area?” Bill asked. “I'm not really looking at the compensation. I have my livestock there and all I want is for them to clean it up.
“My family has been out there since the 1970s. You talk about EPA and all those people coming out here and testing. I haven't seen nobody there yet. I live right underneath the mining site. So when you go back to Washington, those are some of the concerns that you can take over there. I'm very frustrated,” she said.
Harrison recommended the chapter pass a resolution asking the Division of Health to intervene and engage some type of health investigation for family members. “You're not the only community,” he said.
When workers from the Navajo Abandoned Mine Lands program originally began cleanup of mine sites, they didn't realize that reclamation would not address all the issues that would occur in the future with the erosion, Taylor said.
“We have begun to realize from an environmental point of view that what is needed at a lot of these abandoned mine sites throughout Navajo Indian Country is more than just reclamation. The term that we use is remediation, which is an environmental term that means you go in and you assess the environmental danger as opposed to the immediate safety danger like the open pits.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Navajo EPA now are reassessing all those areas that have been reclaimed. “I don't know where Blue Gap is on that list of reassessments,” Taylor said, but reassured residents he would take back their concerns and make sure the area is on the agencies' radar screen for review.
“After they do the review, then comes the tough part of trying to decide what the appropriate remediation is. You can't get rid of uranium. It's there forever. What you have to do is figure out how to deal with it, which is a huge problem. What the Navajo EPA favors, for the most part, is taking it out of Indian Country, getting rid of it, taking it to an approved repository that is totally out of the area,” he said, adding that the problem with that is the transportation cost.
Anna Begay told Navajo officials that Blue Gap/TaChee residents aren't even being considered as part of the affected area, “but we are. I know ever since I started working with the community, which is 20 years, we've lost 51 people with cancer. At this time we're trying to find a shoulder to cry on and nobody seems to listen to us. We're not even considered that we're in serious need.
“Now that we're trying to get somewhere on this compensation act, we are told to submit a lot of information. We can't track it down. At the time our parents were living they didn't have a birth certificate or they didn't go by calendars when they were born. Even us, we don't know if our birth dates are the same as what we have on record.”
Susan Nez of Blue Gap, who recently lost her 3-year-old grandson, said she now has a very small family. “I only have one sister and two brothers. The majority have passed on from Navajo Neuropathy. They said it was a hereditary disease. Nobody had that disease. My parents and no grandparents had it.
“For a long time, the community members and our family where we lived, we were looked upon as a taboo family. We were outcasts, you could say, sort of like contaminated – which we are, I guess. I lost my grandson two months ago. He also had that same disease. So cancer is not the only end result from uranium.”
Joe said he and Delegate Tom LaPahe met recently with Lillie Lane of Navajo EPA. “She gave us more information. We found out our water was contaminated, this windmill right here,” less than a football field away. “Why they didn't close it down we don't know. A lot of our water table is contaminated, according to her information, but they need to complete their study.
“Blue Gap and TaChee chapters, the readings are very high, even the dust. The air samples and what they gathered was very high.
“We're exposing a lot of the people that are here now,” he said, adding that the rocks from which the chapter is constructed also gave elevated readings. “We must be the only chapter that has readings on those rocks – so don't glow in the dark when you start home.”
Akwesasne: Native Pride Coverage
MNN June 22, 2009. What's behind the recent aggression against Mohawks in Akwesasne and Tyendinaga? Our communities are sitting on valuable territory. Some real estate tycoons in New York City want it.
They've cooked up a deal to get Canada to try to kick us off. This was done to US Indigenous people in the US under the Termination Act of 1953. Canada is being pressured to get rid of any obligations to deal legally, fairly and equitably with us. They're trying to take away civil rights, human rights, our land and our communities, especially from those Mohawks who live in Akwesasne, Kahnawake, Kanehsatake, Tyendinaga and Six Nations.
The propaganda style portraying us as Wild West savages who are to be annihilated comes from the US. The same tactics are being tried on us who live north of the imaginary line. It started in 1990 when Canada's Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sent the army around us in Kanehsatake after his fishing trip with US President George Bush Sr. We did not want a golf course on our burial and ceremonial sites. Native Pride has been thoroughly covering this issue from the Seneca Keepers of the Western Door.
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