Navajoland: Front End Of Nuclear Food Chain - IRS Sells Indian Land To Pay Taxes
You can't blame the Navajo Nation for being a little gun-shy when it comes to a new round of uranium mining. After all, Navajo is at the front end of the nuclear food chain.
For more than 60 years, mining companies have benefited from Navajo labor and the Nation's rich uranium reserves, some reaping vast fortunes while paying workers with nothing more than a few groceries.
This worked out fine for the companies and federal government, because in later years, when workers began to suffer from uranium-related illnesses, there was no paper trail, therefore, workers didn't qualify for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act because they had no proof of work history.
Many went to their graves with only an apology from Congress for “the hardships they have endured” due to occupational exposure to radiation while employed in the uranium industry during the build-up to the Cold War.
For Navajos, to date, there have been no comprehensive health studies. Navajo Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. EPA have identified 520 known abandoned uranium mines across the reservation that sit just as they did when the companies packed up and left town. Getting funding to clean them up is another problem.
The extent of contamination in groundwater, wells and springs has not been thoroughly assessed. An estimated 54,000 Navajos lack access to safe drinking water. Many of the livestock wells they rely on for water hauling are contaminated, and families are knowingly drinking uranium-laced water because they have no other choice.
Groundwater pumping is lowering water tables while rising temperatures are reducing river flows. According to a federal study, water supplies will become increasingly scarce in coming years, calling for trade-offs among competing uses and potentially leading to conflict.
Knowing this, and the fact that the Navajo Nation has stated emphatically that it wants no part of uranium mining and has passed a law to that effect, one has to question why Hydro Resources Inc. continues to push its plan to mine aquifers in Churchrock and Crownpoint for the sake of recovering uranium.
HRI and parent company Uranium Resources Inc. say the new mining technology is safe. It will not cross-contaminate aquifers or produce the legacy issues of past mining. Great! Let the company provide proof to Navajo of where it has done in-situ mining and restored groundwater to pre-mining conditions.
When the Navajo Nation first went before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in 2007, it requested $500 million to begin addressing uranium legacy issues. What it has received so far has been a drop in the bucket. Yet U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is pushing for $100 billion in federal loan guarantees, largely to fund a nuclear renaissance.
There must be a plan to clean up the legacy of uranium mining from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s before more mining is allowed in the 2010s. There must be good, high-paying jobs, there must be a proven record of safety, there must be assurances that precious water will not be contaminated and most of all there must be a commitment by uranium mining companies they will not just come to Indian Country, take what they want and then leave the mess for others to live with.
Until then, new mining and a nuclear revival are a slap in the face to those miners who sacrificed so much for us in the past, the Navajo Nation and tribal sovereignty.
American Indian Land Sold Off By IRS To Pay Off Taxes
by Tom Leonard in New York
Telegraph News - UK
December 04, 2009
US tax officials have sold off thousands of acres of an impoverished Indian reservation in what the tribe claims is a "shameful" and unprecedented breach of laws protecting Native Americans.
The 7,112 acres - or 11 square miles - of Crow Creek Sioux ancestral land in central South Dakota was auctioned off on Thursday by the US Internal Revenue Service to help pay off more than $3.1 million (£1.9 million) in unpaid taxes, penalties and interest.
The land, part of the tribe's original reservation established in an 1868 treaty, was originally held by the federal government in a trust for the tribe. However, it was later divided up between individual tribal members, some of whom sold it to non-Indians, putting it outside the tribe's legal jurisdiction.
The tribe bought it back in 1998 but claims the US Bureau of Indian Affairs failed to put the land back into trust, which would have protected it.
The bleak, flat reservation land is particularly valuable to the tribe, one of the poorest communities in the US, because it has been designated as suitable for the development of wind power.
Buffalo County, which encompasses the Crow Creek reservation, is consistently listed by the US Census Bureau as one of the poorest counties in America.
While the tribe's lawyers have launched a legal appeal, some Indians said they would be erecting teepees on the disputed land in protest.
Lawyers and academics believe it is the first instance of the IRS seizing tribal lands in this way.
"It's very disgraceful, very shameful. It's devastating to us. Our land is never for sale," said Brandon Sazue, the tribal chairman, after the auction.
The tribe claims it never paid the taxes because it had been incorrectly told by federal officials that recognised tribes were exempt from them. While Indian tribes are not usually subject to taxes, exceptions are made for their business ventures.
Tommy Thompson, the tribal secretary, said the IRS should have negotiated with the tribe and that the tax bill could have been paid from trust money held for the tribe.
His tribe argues that the IRS sale should have had congressional approval and was also illegal because the land is held by a tribal corporation that is not legally responsible for its debts.
"Members died and were buried on the land. Indeed, the lands were considered so important to the Crow Creek Sioux tribe that the tribe went into debt to acquire the land as part of its land consolidation effort to enlarge the Crow Creek Indian Reservation," the lawsuit argues.
The IRS refused to comment on the sale while a lawsuit was pending but confirmed that the land fetched almost $2.6 million, substantially less than the $4.6 million at which it had been valued.
Lawyers say the tribe can buy back the land during a 180-day redemption period but their lawsuit against the IRS will go to trial before the deadline expires.
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