Is Uranium Mine on Indian Land? Court Of Appeals Says 'No', Navajo Nation Says 'Yes'! - Recognize Lemhi Shoshone - NAPT: Documentary Doctor
Navajo Debates Challenge Of HRI Decision
By Kathy Helms
CHURCHROCK – A 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last week that Hydro Resources Inc.'s Section 8 property in Churchrock is not in Indian Country was met with outrage by some members of the Navajo Nation and others who have fought for decades toward cleanup of the Cold War uranium legacy.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with the Navajo Nation as intervenor, had argued previously before a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit that because “the community of reference,” or Churchrock, is in Indian country, HRI’s land must be considered Indian country, too.
The panel upheld EPA's classification and HRI petitioned for a full court review. As a result, in the June 15 ruling, six of the 11 judges for the 10th Circuit said they were compelled to vacate EPA's final land status determination.
The ruling means the authority to issue a final underground injection control permit to HRI falls under the jurisdiction of the state of New Mexico instead of EPA.
Don Ewigleben, president and CEO of Uranium Resources Inc., parent company of HRI, said the ruling enables them to immediately seek to renew the permit they had been granted by the state in 1989. Rick Van Horn, vice president of operations, estimated that in-situ uranium mining could begin in Churchrock in 18 to 24 months.
Van Horn said Tuesday that URI will be looking for financial backers for the in-situ recovery operation, which is projected to cost $50 million from start to finish.
URI has been conducting prospective employee workshops to begin recruitment for a variety of jobs. “We have been encouraged by the level of interest and support URI is receiving in the Grants Mineral Belt,” Ewigleben said. People are looking for jobs and we want to provide that need.”
But swaying public opinion on the Navajo Nation might not be so easy. At least 13 Navajo chapters have adopted resolutions opposing new uranium mining, including Churchrock, Crownpoint and Pinedale.
Navajo Nation Council Delegate Phil Harrison, who has worked tirelessly on behalf of sick uranium workers, said the court decision “goes to show URI and the feds are the devil's advocate on a mission to poison the pristine water resources in the Eastern Agency.”
He warned that in 10 years or less the impacted communities will be suffering from severe adverse health effects such as kidney failures, various cancers and birth defects. And when it does, he said, “the responsible parties, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, will be nowhere around to take responsibility. They will make their money and move on to greener pastures just like their neighbors did in the last 60 years.”
This is Indian Country, he said. “We have Fundamental Law set aside by the Holy People. We have rights and still have a chance to stop this genocide.”
David Taylor, an attorney with Navajo Department of Justice, said the Nation is disappointed by the majority opinion in HRI v. EPA.
“We are deeply appreciative of the positions taken by the five dissenting judges as set forth in the two separate dissenting opinions. In the coming days we will be studying the opinions and weighing all of our options, including the possibility of filing a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in the United States Supreme Court.”
Larry King, who resides in Churchrock Chapter about 1,000 feet way from the proposed mine site, was exasperated.
“How the courts can say this is private land and not Indian country is beyond me. The reservation line at one time used to be farther south of Section 8, and the 160 acre parcel is completely surrounded by Navajo tribal trust and Indian allotment lands. Many local families have used not only the lands in the canyon but also above the canyon for many years, even before Phillips sunk the first mine shaft in the '50s.”
George Arthur, who sponsored the Dine Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005 which banned uranium mining and milling activities on the Navajo Nation, said he, for one, would encourage the Nation's legal staff to take the case to the next level. “I would be mystified very greatly if the Nation's legal personnel didn't pursue it.”
At the same time, he said, “It's disappointing that one sector of the governmental structure of the United States of America feels that way, whereas in previous years there has been acknowledgment that the area in question, and lands that are in the exterior boundaries referred to as 'checkerboard,' have been referred to as Indian Country by other components of the federal government, including the courts.
“I guess it depends on how the decision-makers wake up in the morning and which way the wind's blowing,” he said.
Chris Shuey of Southwest Research and Information Center has worked approximately 15 years with Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, assisting ENDAUM in its battle to keep HRI/URI out of the Navajo communities of Churchrock and Crownpoint.
“They want to do an activity in the back yard of people that don't want it. It's outrageous that these issues turn on technicalities and legalities of the reality of the land,” he said.
“The court's decision ignored the well-documented history of Diné occupancy of lands in the Churchrock area for much of the past 200 years. Section 8 in particular was used by Navajo people for grazing, cattle drives and water resources and, at one time in the early part of the 20th Century, was part of the Navajo Reservation.”
Section 8 was, and much of it remains, public domain, owned by the United States; but it is virtually surrounded by Indian lands. It was not until 1970 that the federal government gave title to the southeast quarter of Section 8 to United Nuclear Corp. through the patenting of mining claims. HRI obtained the property from UNC in the 1980s, Shuey said.
“Hence, the court's decision elevates the uranium industry's relatively recent and limited use of a small parcel of land over the far longer occupancy and broader use of tens of thousands of acres of lands by multiple generations of Navajo people.”
Though Van Horn said he expects the company to be mining within 24 months because the company has kept the underground injection control permit in “timely renewal,” meaning they have filed all the necessary papers to keep it active, Shuey disputed that claim.
HRI/URI still needs a valid underground injection control permit from the New Mexico Environment Department for Section 8 and from U.S. EPA for Section 17, he said. “HRI's state groundwater discharge permit, DP-558, has not been renewed since 1998,” according to the Environment Department's permit list.
Shuey also questioned financing for the project. “By its own admission, URI does not have the necessary capital to develop Section 8 or any other part of its Crownpoint Uranium Project. According to its financial filings with the SEC, it has lost more than $80 million in the last 10 years, turning a profit in only three quarters of the past decade.
“My perception is that the overwhelming sentiment in the communities is against new uranium development and in favor of cleanup of abandoned mines and waste dumps, full compensation for uranium workers, and funding of health studies among populations living in mining communities,” Shuey said.
“There are scientific studies and a known fact – uranium kills!” Harrison added.
Arthur said he hopes the people that have economic interest in Churchrock will be very conscientious of the general attitude toward uranium mining. “You haven't convinced your neighbor that everything is well and safe. It would be very difficult for me to go to sleep, knowing that's a factor in the way I make my living,” he said.
LEMHI SHOSHONE HONOR THEIR PAST
Submitted by Michael Harris to Democratic Underground - June 22, 2010
The Agai' dika or Lemhi Shoshone, as the Mormons called them, have been fighting for tribal recognition for a while; they are the ancestors of Sacajawea. Their traditional land was taken from them.
Once a year they return to Salmon, Idaho, where Chief Tendoy is buried, to honor their past. The 3-day event ends with a 12 mile walk up to Lemhi Pass where many of their people were forced to march during their removal. Many Agai'dika died along the way.
I've been documenting their story through my photography for a while now. If my work has moved you please write everyone you know, tell them to write their representatives in Washington.
Ask them why we put Sacajawea on a dollar but do not recognize her people, why we name a war ship after her but take their land. It's time to honor these people. Support a national park in her honor. The town of Salmon, Idaho has a memorial for Sacajawea they may be trying to sell.
Let's tell Washington to purchase it and donate it to her people.
The rest are here: http://palousephoto.smugmug.com/People/Agaidika/12665714_
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