1100 Tons Of Radioactive Mill Waste
By Kathy Helms
CHURCHROCK – Approximately 60 people joined members of the Red Water Pond Road Community Association Friday in an intimate prayer walk to remember those affected 31 years ago by the Churchrock uranium mill tailings spill.
In 1979 an earthen tailings dam at the United Nuclear Corp. mill failed, spilling 1,100 tons of radioactive mill waste and an estimated 95 million gallons of radioactive wastewater down Pipeline Arroyo and into the north fork of the Puerco River – more radiation than was released in the Three Mile Island reactor accident four months earlier.
Nadine Padilla of the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment, a coalition of grassroots organizations, said the spill traveled through approximately nine Navajo Nation chapters and was the world's second-worst nuclear accident, topped only by the 1986 Chernobyl reactor meltdown.
“It's an issue that's still affecting the communities today. After the spill there was an increase in cancers in this area, and also after the spill there were a lot of stories about people's livestock and sheep being affected,” Padilla said. “There were sheep that were born with no hair at all, or the insides of the sheep were damaged. The children also were affected.
“So we have this event today to remember those that have been affected and to support the local community here in their struggle as they try to get reclamation of these areas.”
The day started with a prayer around the tepee grounds at the home of Teddy Nez, president of the community association, followed by a walk along New Mexico Route 566 to the site of the spill, and lunch and speeches at the Nez residence.
“Last year we had a larger event and we had a lot more people, but this year the community decided that they wanted to have a smaller, more intimate event, and that's what we did today,” Padilla said.
They also wanted to send a message: “We're opposed to any new uranium mining and we're in it for the long haul,” she said.
Coyote Canyon Chapter Vice President Henry Tso said, “Way back when gas was only 80 cents a gallon and a soda pop was only a nickel, I can remember that my brother and I had some relatives that worked here with United Nuclear and Kerr-McGee. During that time we didn't know that this uranium would be devastating to the community.
“Our Navajo government didn't really understand the effects of what uranium was at that time. We're seeing the effects of what it did to our people, our young ones.”
Tso said he received a telephone call from a young woman last week seeking information on whether there was any compensation available for her daughter who has had to have a series of facial surgeries because she was “born with some kind of disease.”
“It's only through harmony, only through prayers that we can start the healing. We need to come together as a family and pray with each other,” he said.
Tony Hood of the community association said the elders talk about the Creation stories and how the Navajos came to be in the present world.
“They came from the black world, yellow, white, blue. And each time they had to rethink those worlds because of some mischievous person, being the coyote, who was the perpetrator. Finally, we made it up here to the Glittering World. We still have these perpetrators running around in this government. What are we going to do if this world is contaminated? Where are we going to go?” he said.
“We're not only doing this for ourselves, we're doing it for our children and grandchildren. One of my grandsons was born with a birth defect. These corporations, they don't take that into consideration. Their bottom line is profit. They compromise people's health, Mother Earth. They think life is expendable, but life is sacred.”
John Boomer of MASE told those gathered that they need to “gradually come together like tributaries of a stream” and strengthen their numbers so the politicians will listen. Now, he said, “I don't think they listen at all. They know what they want and they're determined to get it; and we've got to be just as determined to stop their abuses and stop these practices.”
The uranium industry says mining is safe, he said. “That's what BP said too. They said offshore drilling was safe and they had new techniques, and a few months after they lifted those bans, look what happened. Hopi prophecy talks about how we're going to hear about the ocean turning black. When I saw that recently on YouTube, it gave me chills, because I thought, 'How did they know?'”
New Mexico Sen. Lynda Lovejoy said the Navajo people are going to have to work harder to stop the uranium beast. “The number of people who are going to really continue to fight uranium and fight for legacy cleanup, that number is going to keep diminishing until we're just a small number, but it's going to be strong,” she said.
“You know me to stand with you. I've always been very clear on one thing when it comes to mining – that I am against uranium development here in Churchrock and in Crownpoint. I never flip-flop on that whatsoever.”
She said she was extremely proud of Padilla, who along with Eric Jantz of New Mexico Environmental Law Center testified last week before the state Radioactive and Hazardous Waste Committee.
“She is just a little tiny petite young woman but she is stronger than Goliath. The legislators, the white leaders, they grilled her. Anyone else would have gotten so emotional and just cried and put their head down. She sat there with her head high. She answered their questions.”
Padilla said she and Jantz presented concerns about the uranium legacy and going forward with new mining when there is a big problem that still needs to be dealt with.
“The committee members didn't seem particularly receptive to our message and they grilled us pretty hard for about two hours. They used a lot of personal attacks against Eric and I. They were asking me – 'Did you go to school? What are your degrees in?' -- trying to discredit what my message was. And they were also asking Eric, 'Who do you work for? You must be getting paid a lot to be throwing those type of lies around.'
“It felt like we weren't really able to discuss the issues so much as just trying to defend our own personal characters and our organizations,” she said.
Lovejoy said the battle at the state level is “very frustrating, because you have your own leaders that are not going to back you up.” Some are getting their campaign money “from the very industry that we're doing battle with,” she said, and encouraged the audience to look it up on the Internet.
The federal government used Navajo people as guinea pigs, she said. “They knew that we couldn't speak up. They knew that our people were uneducated. They took advantage of our people. You are brave when you step up and say no. You are brave when you step up and say, 'Wait a minute, what about our water? What about the air? What about our health risks?'”
She said she has told fellow leaders, “You can't even spend a few thousand dollars to do a comprehensive study. You dispute everything. You have never accepted the data. Just put up a few dollars and let's do a comprehensive study.” But still today, nothing. “That's what we're up against. That's the truth,” she said.
Nez said the time for talk is over. It's time for action. The community group wants a time line for cleanup and health studies.
“We want U.S. EPA Region 9 to fulfill their responsibility, and then we want U.S. EPA Region 6 to take the responsibility and do their thing, and then we want the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do their thing within that time line instead of just playing ping-pong and blaming each other. What we want to hear is 'I can do it.'”Choctaw Code Talkers - WWI War Heros
Choctaw Code Talkers, a compelling documentary about America's World War I heroes, comes to public television in Fall 2010
Native American Public Telecommunications, Inc. (NAPT) proudly announces the release of a new documentary that examines the pivotal role that Choctaw soldiers played in helping shape an earlier end of World War I.
In 1918, not yet citizens of the United States, Choctaw members of the American Expeditionary Forces were asked by the government to use their Native language as a powerful tool against the German Forces in World War I, setting a precedent for code talking as an effective military weapon and establishing them as America's Original Code Talkers.
Co-produced by Red-Horse Native Productions, Inc., Valhalla Motion Pictures and Native American Public Telecommunications, Inc. (NAPT), Choctaw Code Talkers
will transport viewers back to World War I for an intimate and engaging look into the lives of these brave men, their families, their dreams and their patriotism to a country who would remember them as heroes, but not until after their death.
"The government had sworn them to secrecy about what they did," said Evangeline Wilson, relative of Code Talkers Mitchell Bobb and James Edwards, Sr.Choctaw Code Talkers
is a follow-up to the award-winning documentary True Whispers: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers, a PBS nationally broadcast documentary produced by Valerie Red-Horse, President, of Red-Horse Native Productions, Inc. with Gale Anne Hurd, CEO, of Valhalla Motion Pictures.
"By launching the original concept of code talking for secure military communications, these brave Choctaw men laid the foundation for all other battlefield code talkers, including the Navajo, who were so instrumental in World War II. Even though it is overdue, nearly 100 years since their service, I am honored to be a part of bringing this important American story to the screen," Red-Horse said.
In World War I, by 1918, the German Forces had deciphered the Allied Forces' radio codes, tapped into their phone lines and captured messenger runners in order to anticipate the Allied strategies. The Allied Forces were desperate to attain secure communications and requested Choctaw soldiers to use their language to transmit messages in the field and from the trenches.
"If you don't have secure communications, it will end in stalemate or defeat," stated Matt Reed, Curator of the American Indian and Military History Collections at the Oklahoma Museum of History.
"This is an important story of heroic men whose wartime contributions helped to change the course of world history. Their Code was created while the men risked their lives fighting in Northern France during the fiercest and bloodiest battles of World War I.
The Choctaw American Indian soldiers outwitted their German opponents, turning the tide of the War and ensuring the Allied victory," said Hurd.Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT)
shares Native stories with the world through support of the creation, promotion and distribution of Native media. Founded in 1977, through various media-public television, public radio and the Internet-NAPT brings awareness of Indian and Alaska Native issues.
NAPT operates the AIROS Native Network
, a 24/7 Internet radio station that features music, news, interviews, documentaries and audio theater. AIROS also features downloadable podcasts with Native filmmakers, musicians and Tribal leaders. VisionMaker Video
is the premier source for quality Native American educational and home videos. All aspects of our programs encourage the involvement of young people to learn more about careers in the media-to be the next generation of storytellers.
NAPT is located at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. NAPT offers student employment, internships and fellowships. Reaching the general public and the global market is the ultimate goal for the dissemination of Native-produced media.
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