Again. Really? “This is not your land. This is not your land. This is not your land.” Repeatedly, the federal government continues to proclaim that this land does not belong to its original inhabitants. This time, the 10th Circuit of Appeals, has told plaintiff's Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM) and the entire Navajo Nation that allotted lands in the checkerboard area of the Navajo Nation do not fall within the definition of "Indian Country" and are therefore not under the jurisdiction of the Navajo Nation.
The effects? Uranium Resources, Inc., parent company to Hydro Resources, Inc. may now begin in situ leaching for uranium near Church Rock, NM (now jurisdiction of New Mexico – pending further appeal). For decades, uranium industries have profited and exploited Dine’ Bikeyah (Navajo Lands) and have gone so far as to cause the largest radioactive accident in the history of the United States. Coincidentally, this disastrous spill occurred at Church Rock a mere 31 years ago, the consequences of which are still seen today with high rates of birth defects and cancer. The Navajo Nation forever placed a ban on uranium mining with the passage of the Dine’ Resources Protection of 2005 and in 2009 declared July 16th to be the official “Uranium Legacy Remembrance & Action Day” to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Church Rock spill and to remember and honor the Dine’ communities that were affected by the disaster. Today, these communities are threatened once again.
This court decision will have grave effects on those Navajo residents living near the site and will ultimately pay for the price of uranium development. The allotted lands within the checkerboard area were declared outside of Indian Country, a phrase that allows tribal jurisdiction to extend over Indian allotments located on or off the reservation, over lands within Indian reservations and over dependent Indian communities. In making this ill decision, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has exposed Navajo residents to the many risks of contamination and radiation.
Today, a long-time fighter of uranium development in the southwest stated, “This is what happens when people only rely on maps and paper documents and don't see the real situation the ground.”
Also today, I say my prayers for my family living just miles north of Church Rock who are already fighting various cancers and health problems.
For more information on this issue:
Appellate Court Upholds HRI's Mining Permit in the Navajo Times.
Winona's Earth Island Journal article on ENDAUM and the 2005 uranium mining ban.