By Kathy Helms
October 20, 2021
CHURCHROCK – Grassroots members of Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining figured out more than a decade ago that the only recourse for holding the federal government accountable for human rights abuses related to uranium extraction on tribal lands was to take the matter to the international arena. Which they did.
ENDAUM petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alleging that when the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed Hydro Resources Inc., now known as NuFuels, to operate uranium mining in the Navajo communities of Churchrock and Crownpoint, it violated human rights guaranteed in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. Those include the rights to life, health, benefits of culture, fair trial, and property.
“The U.S. talks a good game on human rights, but when called on to respect human rights at home, there are suddenly a bunch of excuses why international human rights laws shouldn’t apply to our government,” Eric Jantz, senior staff attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said.
“The U.S. simply has no credibility calling out human rights abuses abroad until it can stop its own abuses here,” Jantz, who has worked on the case for 20 years, said.
Standing for human rights
The Inter-American Commission declared ENDAUM’s petition “admissible” this past March and provided until Oct. 21 for the group to submit additional observations on the merits. Those observations will be made public Thursday, immediately after they are filed, according to a news release from the Law Center.
ENDAUM and the Law Center will celebrate the submission of their filing, including written and video testimony, during a Zoom gathering at 12:30 p.m. (MDT).
The group claims the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed an in-situ leach uranium mine it knows will contaminate groundwater – an important resource of drinking water and cultural identity to communities that suffer increased risk of death and disease from historic uranium mining and milling the U.S. government not only tolerated but promoted.
Jonathan Perry, ENDAUM director and Becenti Chapter president, said the filing is crucial for the protection of Diné communities, the people, their homeland and culture.
“We will stand for our human rights and not allow our value as indigenous people to be diminished. The federal government must realize that we are not disposable and that water is life,” Perry said.
Christine Smith, an elementary school teacher in Crownpoint and member of ENDAUM, lives next to Hydro Resources Inc.’s uranium processing facility. “As a Native American where uranium mining has occurred in the past, I hope to prevent this from ever happening again,” she said.
In the past, the Navajo people were not consulted or invited to the table to be a part of any policy decision-making affecting their community. They were not educated as to the harmful effects of uranium. Now they are in a position to protect their community, water and future generations by filing the petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Smith said.
“Water will determine our survival as a people beginning now and into the future, especially with climate change, so we all collectively become protectors of what sustains us,” she added.
ENDAUM has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to rescind or not renew Hydro Resources Inc.’s uranium mining license and has recommended that the Inter-American Commission hold a hearing on the merits and a thematic hearing about broader impacts to indigenous communities from uranium mining and milling.
The grassroots group also has requested: the U.S. government respect Navajo Nation law and prioritize Diné cultural views, practices, beliefs and expression in Dinétah; the government purchase or condemn the mineral rights to ensure those minerals are never developed; that a remediation plan be created and implemented; and that an environmental assessment of impacts from uranium mining and milling be conducted.