A sacred duty to protect water and land
As a Pastor and Dine' (Navajo) woman, I believe it is our sacred duty to protect our lands and our waters for people today and future generations. Protecting the water is protecting our very lives.
When precious water comes in contact with the element uranium, it results in radioactivity that lasts millions of years. The Navajo have experienced this horror firsthand because there are more than 500 uranium mines near and on Navajo Nation lands in Northern Arizona.
Drinking water in the Navajo reservation is today contaminated, forcing thousands of people to drive hundreds of miles to get safe water. The Navajo have died of conditions associated with uranium contamination such as cancer and kidney failure, and infants have detectable levels of uranium in their systems.
You would think that this is enough … that there is no way that people today would call for more uranium mining near the Navajo lands.
Sadly, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has already proven that he is listening to mining interests instead of tribes. On February 16, Secretary Zinke announced that he wants uranium to be officially listed as a ‘critical mineral’ for the United States. If Secretary Zinke is successful, that will drive more uranium mining and processing in the West in order to increase domestic supply.
The mining industry will use the new elevated categorization as an excuse to tear down any roadblocks to uranium mining that still remain. Last year, the company Energy Fuels successfully removed one of their barriers, when they successfully lobbied Secretary Zinke to eliminate huge portions of the Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah in order to have access to approximately 100 uranium mining claims.
Secretary Zinke said that mining played no role in his decision to remove 85 percent of the Bears Ears National Monument from protection. That is frankly just another white man’s lie to our people. The Navajo Nation will not stand for this – we have joined other tribes to legally challenge the Trump Administration’s severe shrinking of Bears Ears.
There is a great concern growing that Energy Fuels will convince Secretary Zinke to open up the Grand Canyon watershed to new uranium mining as well. The company has already complained to Congress against the current ban on uranium mining on the federally owned public lands that surround Grand Canyon National Park.
These lands that at risk lie just west of Navajo territory. More irreversible damage to our water is on the horizon if Secretary Zinke and private mining interests have their way. I hope that Secretary Zinke will recognize when enough is enough – that our scared lands cannot bear any more scars and our waters cannot withstand any more poison.
Rev. Tweedy Sombrero Navarrete is Dine' (Navajo), Pastor of Shepherd of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona. Rev. Tweedy serves in many capacities of the UMC and is one of the first Native women to be ordained. She is a member of Church Within A Church Movement’s Extraordinary Ordination Work Area.