Navajos won’t allow uranium mining, President tells subcommittee

Navajos won’t allow uranium mining, President tells
subcommittee, for March 30


March 30, 2008


FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., told a
Congressional subcommittee here Friday that the Navajo Nation remains
opposed to uranium mining on or near its land, and will take whatever action
necessary to prevent it.

“It is unconscionable to me that the federal government would consider
allowing uranium mining to be restarted anywhere near the Navajo Nation when
we are still suffering from previous mining activities,” he said. “In
response to attempts to renew uranium mining, the Navajo Nation Council
passed, and I signed into law, the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act.
This law places a ban on all uranium mining both within the Navajo Nation
boundary, and within Navajo Indian Country.”

Testifying at a joint oversight hearing before the Subcommittee on National
Parks, Forests and Public Lands at the Flagstaff City Council Chambers,
President Shirley said Navajos “do not want to not sit by, ignorant of the
effects of uranium mining, only to watch another generation of mothers and
fathers die.”

“We are doing everything we can to speak out and do something about it,” he
said. “We do not want a new generation of babies born with birth defects. We
will not allow our people to live with cancers and other disorders as
faceless companies make profits only to declare bankruptcy and then walk
away from the damage they have caused, regardless of the bond they have in

The hearing was held to gather testimony on “Community Impacts of Proposed
Uranium Mining Near Grand Canyon National Park.” In December 2007, the U.S.
Forest Service authorized VANE Minerals, LLC, to conduct exploratory
drilling for uranium three miles south of Grand Canyon National Park. The
Park Service used Categorical Exclusion Category 8 to approve the drilling,
which covers short-term investigations and which had limited public
involvement. Consultation with tribes amounted to sending a letter.

On March 6, Subcommittee Chairman Congressman Raul Grijalva wrote to U.S.
Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer to ask that the Forest Service re-initiate
the process “to ensure a more rigorous public involvement and environmental
analysis process.”

About 200 people filled the council chamber at the Flagstaff City Hall. Also
presenting testimony during the first morning panel with President Shirley
was Kaibab Paiute Tribal Chairwoman Ono Segundo and Havasupai Tribal
Chairman Don Watahomigie. Both also testified that their tribes are opposed
to renewed uranium mining in and around the Grand Canyon region.

Appearing with Congressman Grijalva was Arizona Congressman Ed Pastor and
California Congresswoman Grace Napolitano.

President Shirley said that as the Cold War raged more than 50 years ago,
the United States government began a massive effort to mine and process
uranium ore for use in the country’s nuclear weapons programs. Much of that
uranium was mined on or near Navajo lands by Navajo hands.

“Today, the legacy of uranium mining continues to devastate both the people
and the land,” he said. “The workers, their families, and their neighbors
suffer increased incidences of cancers and other medical disorders caused by
their exposure to uranium. Fathers and sons who went to work in the mines
and the processing facilities brought uranium dust into their homes to
unknowingly expose their families to radiation.”

“The mines, many simply abandoned, have left open open scars in the ground
with leaking radioactive waste. The companies that processed the uranium
ore dumped their waste in open – and in some cases unauthorized – pits,
exposing both the soil and the water to radiation.”

Asked by Congressman Pastor whether the Navajo Nation sees any benefits to
come from uranium mining, President Shirley the opposite has been true in
the past.

“Many of my people have died. Many of my medicine people have died,

” he said. “And as a result, our culture has gone away, some of
it. Some of the medicine people with the knowledge they have, when they go
on, it’s just like a library has gone on. You lose a lot of culture. That
has happened to my people.”

He said the tragedy of uranium’s legacy extends not only to those who worked
in the mines but to those who worked and lived near the mines that also
experienced devastating illnesses. Decades later, families who live in those
same areas continue to experience health problems.

“The remnants of uranium activity continue to pollute our land, our water,
and our lives,” he said. “It would be unforgivable to allow this cycle to
continue for another generation.”

He explained that in recent years, many companies have approached the Navajo
Nation with promises of riches.

“They have promised us newer and cleaner methods of mining that they say
will not harm the land, the water, or the people,” he said. “We have
repeatedly declined their offers.”

He said the Nation has been told that in situ leach mining is a process that
injects a solution into the ground to separate the ore from the surrounding

“These companies claim the process is harmless,” President Shirley said.
“The science on this process is, at best, inconclusive, and, at worst,
points to increased radioactive contaminants in the groundwater after the
mining operations cease.”

He said he cannot believe the claims of safety “when history and science
establish a different record.”

“The Navajo people have been consistently lied to by companies and
government officials concerning the effects of various mining activities.
Unfortunately, the true cost of these activities is understood only later
when the companies have stolen away with their profits leaving the Navajo
people to bear the health burdens.”

Asked by whether he was contacted by the Forest Service about allowing VANE
to conduct exploratory drilling near the Grand Canyon, President Shirley
said no. He added that any Navajo official or division director who may have
been contacted would have given the Forest Service the same answer.

“Every testimony coming from the Navajo Nation, whether it’s through me, any
of our council delegates, any of our legislators, it’s no, we do not want
the further mining of the uranium ore on Navajoland or on land contiguous to
Navajoland,” he said. “So if there’s any conversation that took place with
any of the U.S. Forest representatives, that’s what they’ve heard.”

“We just don’t want it,” he said. “We have a law in place, and that’s the
Diné Natural Resources Protection Act that says no way will we allow, no way
will the Navajo Nation or any of its departments or any of its staff allow
the further mining of uranium ore on Navajo land.”

# # #

George Hardeen, Communications Director
Office of the President & Vice President
The Navajo Nation
DESK 928-871-7917
CELL 928-309-8532

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