(The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)
In my community, our homes are between the mill site down in the southeast direction, United nuclear or General Electric is situated on the south side of the home sites. And on the north side, we have Quivira, or Kerr McGee. And today you saw what happened with the wind. So we live there.
When the mines came in, never was such a thing discussed with us, what was going to happen. But then again, we were all children when all this took place. For the longest time, even after the mining was done, my aunt said, what are we going to do with this pile of dirt? Never knowing there was danger there. Nobody said it was dangerous. Not until an outside company, they were going to start sampling dirt along the highway. So my cousin and I decided to jump on that bandwagon, we said, let’s go help, let’s see what happens. And we did. We had to take samples every so many feet all the way back to the home site. And there they found out that readings were jumping off the charts in there. We finally got somebody’s notice.
And then of course, people know about the 1979 spill at the UNC, where 94 million gallons of contamination went down the puerco wash, flowed through Gallup and on down into Arizona. And at that time, it was also brought up, who’s gonna clean this?
So right now, we’ve asked them to take the waste off of Indian land, off the Navajo reservation. The first thing they keep talking about is, no we can’t. But we keep pushing it. So right now, we want it off Indian country and when you keep fighting for this, we start getting into the topic of environmental injustice, racism. Around that time that this spill happened, there was the incident at Three Mile Island. That happened and immediately it was cleaned up. And here we are forty three years later. We’re still asking for that.
I myself worked at the mine. I worked there and I live right there. So it’s sort of like a double jeopardy for me, I was diagnosed with cancer which still bothers me. But at the time I remember, my community asked if I could start leading the community to get in on this, I didn’t want to at the time because I was sick. And you want to do what you can. Today, sometimes I think, how did I get into this? I’m right here trying to get it cleaned up. Not just because of me, but because of my friends, my family and other people, other impacted communities across the Navajo Nation. They live in this. I know that a lot of people have come and gone, maybe never knowing what took them. Because …I feel that my people, they don’t understand it when you can’t see something. You can’t see uranium, you can’t see radiation, so they don’t know. And of course, you know that it can’t be tasted, but somehow you can get it in your mouth, get it into your skin. So it’s like a slow genocide over there. And we’ve lived with this. We ask why is it taking so long? Maybe it’s because you can see it from I-40. We’re way back in the hills here. So it’s taken us this long, probably going 70 years since the first exploratory drillers came in. We didn’t know what they were there for. As children we were herding sheep.
When they started drilling those places … they had running water, and they would drill and it would be almost like blue mush in the ground. And we were not told it could be dangerous, our sheep herding right down in there. And even one of my grandmothers was chasing the sheep, she fell into one of those, even then we were never told it was dangerous.
And then of course the mining started around the 1970s. Along came with it was the physical side of it, the traffic, the noise. Like we said earlier today, our children were going to school, they had to catch the bus about a mile down by the highway and that was their trail to the bus stop.
And that is how they got to the bus. And when it came time to read the road, they had to take up at least 30 feet of dirt just to clean up that road. So you can imagine a contamination and that road that lead into our community. They had to just keep digging until they took it out. And at the same time they were asking people to move out so they could start cleaning up some of the things they found. There are 3 residences on the east side of where I live. They said they couldn leave and I just live right over here, they said, no you’re ok right there. I said, how come I’m ok over here? Is there a curtain right there? We turned around and started educating them. Don’t you know the air circulates here? …we had these kinds of conversations with those people at the time. Eventually they said, ok, we’ll move you all out. So then they started cleaning up. …and I said, why are we doing things backwards here? Because they were going to clean the sites where residential areas are. I said you are going to recontaminate them, …that’s where we’re out. So they’re going to take it a mile down the road to where maybe the Earth, Mother Earth, can hold it with more tonnes of that waste. Will it hold it? Or are we making another spillway down the road? Another accident. That is one of the reasons why we need it off of Indian country. We don’t want it.
But it’s taken this long. And when you are doing this work, I start to find out things. Like even back before that, a year after the spill, mining companies were saying that the Federal Water Pollution Control Act did not protect … mining and maintain that Native American lands are not subject to environmental protection. And the courts did not force them to comply with the US clean water regulations. Until after the spill, until the 1980s.
So we’re living there with uranium. And I remember, culturally growing up, we had three medicine men living in the community. My grandfather was one of them. And I remember, along with my grandmother, she was an herbalist. You would go out into the hills and collect this plant. But take your pollen bag, take it with you. Bless the plant, talk to it before you take it out. And with that they would tell you, just take what you need.
And I refer back to that because these people that came in for the uranium, they didn’t say a damn prayer, they didn’t do anything. They messed it up and left it there. So we’re having to deal with that right now. And of course a lot of people will make promises to you, especially during election time. I’ll do this for you. I don’t know how many administrations we have sent in. Still, it sits there.
We would like that waste pile to be removed from Indian country. Like I said, I don’t speak for just my community. I speak for the other people across the Navajo Nation. And one of the things I wanted to talk about today was in New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Gallup. …That area is called the sacrifice zone. So you can imagine anybody could go in there and mine, …the health hazards they don’t take into consideration. Mother Earth. And then the health of the people themselves. They don’t take that in there. That’s probably why they called it a sacrifice zone.
And sometimes, you get so frustrated talking about these things. And for me, I take it to where I said, we, Indian country, we are like the people that live in the third world, in the United States. Nobody listens to us. We’re living in the third world in the United States.
And then they do it. President Biden, he’s cranking out money left and right. Why can’t you take care of your American people first.
Instead of shelling out money. Give it to US EPA, Navajo Nation EPA. We need it here. That’s what I wanted to say about Biden and justice, we don’t have it. We’re still trying to get that for the younger kids, the elderlies. Thank you for listening to me.