On April 29, 2005. Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., signed what is believed to be the first Native American tribal law banning uranium mining and milling. With dozens of community members and dignitaries looking on, Shirley signed the DinÃ© Natural Resources Protection Act (DNRPA) of 2005, which was passed by the Navajo Nation Council by a vote of 63-19 on April 19. As amended by the Council during floor debate, the act states, “No person shall engage in uranium mining and processing on any sites within Navajo Indian Country.” The law is based on the Fundamental Laws of the DinÃ©, which are already codified in Navajo statutes. The act finds that based on those fundamental laws, “certain substances in the Earth (doo nal yee dah) that are harmful to the people should not be disturbed, and that the people now know that uranium is one such substance, and therefore, that its extraction should be avoided as traditional practice and prohibited by Navajo law.”
In the late 1970s, Navajo uranium miners and their families asked for help to show that their lung diseases had been caused by their work in underground uranium mines in the 1940s-1960s. SRIC staff responded with medical and scientific data, in-community education strategies, and legislative support. As a result, Congress adopted legislation in 1990 to compensate former miners and their survivors. Ten years later, with SRIC’s on going technical support to advocacy groups, the law was amended to cover virtually all uranium miners who worked before 1971.
Despite making great strides in protecting miners’ and community health, compensating former miners and their families, and cleaning up uranium mill sites, significant problems stemming from the legacy of uranium development still exist today in the Four Corners Area. Hundreds of abandoned mines have not been cleaned up and present environmental and health risks in many Navajo communities. Health conditions in those communities have never been studied despite being impacted by uranium development that dates back to the late-40s and early-50s.
Some of these same communities are now confronted with proposed new uranium solution mining that threatens the only source of drinking water for 10,000 to 15,000 people living in the Eastern Navajo Agency in northwestern New Mexico. Since 1994, SRIC has worked with those communities and the community-based group, Eastern Navajo Dinï¿½ Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM-CCT), to stop the proposed mines through community education, interaction with Navajo Nation leaders, and a seven-year-long legal challenge of the mines’ federal license.
The work of SRIC, ENDAUM-CCT and their law firms – the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) and the Harmon-Curran firm in Washington, D.C. – has erected major roadblocks to the proposed mining, but has not yet terminated the license. Citizen opposition to mining is widespread, and the Navajo Nation leadership recently determined that uranium solution mining is unsafe and that the proposed mines are too risky to the health and environment of the Navajo people.
Against this background, working with Navajo groups and communities to stop new mining and continuing to assess and document the health and environmental effects of past uranium development are the principal focuses of UIAP work.
DESPITE PRECEDENTS SUCH AS THE ABOVE, DISPOSSESSED SOUTHERN AFRICAN NATIONS ARE FORCED TO ALLOW MINING OF URANIUM ON TRIBAL GROUNDS COLONISED BY WHITES AND OWNED BY MULTINATIONAL COMPANIES WORKING IN TANDEM WITH GOVERNMENT AGENCIES.