Navajo Nation hosts uranium summit
Some 300 people from more than a dozen countries have gathered here for the Indigenous World Uranium Summit, and Navajo officials hope to join forces with them to keep the sprawling reservation off-limits to future uranium mining.
President Joe Shirley Jr. said during his welcoming address Thursday that the job of protecting land, water and people from the harmful effects of uranium mining begins with people from all corners of the world coming together to learn from each other.
“As Dine people, we’re also looking for friends to help us defend ourselves against those who would break our laws to get at the uranium ore underneath our lands,” he said. Dine is the Navajos’ word for themselves.
A focal point of the summit is the Dine Natural Resources Protection Act, which banned uranium mining and processing within the sprawling reservation — it spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
Despite the law, the tribe has said several companies have expressed interest in bringing uranium mining back to the Navajo Nation or to land adjacent to the reservation.
While there’s more uranium to be had on the Navajo Nation, Shirley said it should remain buried to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
“In times past, they’ve already killed many of us with their encroachment upon our lands to mine the ore,” he said. “As we meet this week, more Dine people are dying from having been poisoned by uranium ore.”
Hazel James, an organizer of the summit, said the key point of the gathering is to raise awareness of the continuing problem posed by uranium mining and the contamination it leaves behind.
“The importance of this is to keep the land preserved and the water and the people for future generations,” she said.
The three-day summit, which ends Saturday, included a tour of former mining sites and the abandoned United Nuclear Corp. milling and tailings disposal facility near Church Rock, N.M.