FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — With about 100 people, many of them Native American, packing the council chambers Nov. 7, the Flagstaff City Council passed a symbolic resolution opposing transporting uranium through the city from Canyon Mine by a vote of 6-1.
Canyon Mine is located about six miles from Grand Canyon’s South Rim near Red Butte, a sacred mountain and traditional cultural property for the Havasupai Nation. The Havasupai Nation has legally challenged the U.S. Forest Service because of the failure of completing meaningful consultation regarding Canyon Mine in their 1986 Environmental Impact Statement. A decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is pending.
In June, Haul No!, a volunteer indigenous-led group working to stop nuclear colonialism in the Southwest, put a petition before the Flagstaff City Council which resulted in the vote Nov. 7.
Energy Fuels Resources wants to haul uranium from Flagstaff to the White Mesa Mill in Blanding, Utah. Though not final, one of the proposed routes for hauling the uranium, according to Haul No! would take it through Valle, Williams and Flagstaff; as well as through rural Navajo reservation communities including Cameron, Tuba City, and Kayenta; near the Hopi reservation, and finally arrive at Energy Fuel’s White Mesa Mill only three miles from the Ute Mountain Ute tribal community of White Mesa, Utah. One hundred eighty miles of the route is across the Navajo Nation.
It is because of that route that so many Native Americans were on hand Tuesday night. Regional indigenous community members, including six representatives of the Havasupai Tribal Council along with representation from the Diné (Navajo), Hopi, Apache and Pueblo nations, were present to witness the passing of the resolution. State-wide solidarity was felt throughout the evening as Arizona residents from as far away as Phoenix and Tucson came to show their support for the council to pass the resolution, and to push for a future ordinance.
Cameron Chapter President Milton Tso explained the reality in Cameron by having his son show pictures of signs that read ‘Danger, radiation area, keep out’ at abandoned uranium mines that exist near homes and next to kids. The Cameron community has more than 100 abandoned uranium mines.
“Part of the route is through my town,” Tso said. “If it goes through Flagstaff, it goes through my town. It goes through one of the largest town on western Navajo, which is Tuba City and another large town, Kayenta and through Monument Valley.”
Tso pointed out that people must stand against any type of mining that destroys water. He said that he takes uranium mining personally because of his grandfather who is dying slowly.
“He was a mine worker and they weren’t educated on the dangers of uranium,” Tso said. “This personally affects me as well as my little sister…who’s going to have a baby and her son who can’t play beyond those signs. And they live right below those signs.”
Tso said the danger is not a question of if an accident will happen but when.
“My town, we are ill prepared for something like that, we are not trained on how to clean up a spill,” Tso said. “We’re still dealing with open pits around my town. Over a 100 mines around Cameron, that are still open and we’re still trying to get those cleaned up.”
Leilani Clark, a volunteer with Haul No!, said that she continuously travels up from Tucson to bring attention to the issue because she is one of the 40 million people who is dependent on the Colorado River for clean drinking water.
“Already just within the Grand Canyon region, there has already been 20 seeps and springs found with dissolved concentration of uranium above the safe drinking water standards,” she said. “That is unacceptable and we cannot continue for that to happen.”
Clark said the Southwest has a violent legacy of resource extraction without the consent or consultation of indigenous people whose lands are desecrated and whose communities are violated. She said Canyon Mines plans of operations happened without the consent of the Havasupai Tribe.
Clark pushed the council not only to pass the resolution but encouraged them to pass an ordinance as well.
“Because we the people by any means necessary will do whatever it takes to prevent trucks, carrying poison through our communities,” Clark said.
Ophelia Watahomigie-Corliss, Havasupai Tribal council member, spoke on behalf of the Havasupai people. She said that for 40 years the Havasupai Tribe has consistently used whatever means necessary to oppose uranium mining on the Colorado Plateau.
“We see the mining of uranium and heavy metals in our areas as a threat to our waters, our land, our sacred sites and our very survival as a people,” she said.
Watahomigie-Corliss also addressed concerns with the Trump administration’s recent announcement that they are considering lifting a 2012 moratorium on new uranium mines around the Grand Canyon.
“This makes our cooperation all the more urgent,” she said. “We all call this land home and need to join together in the effort to protect our citizens and environment from the adverse effects of mining uranium.”
Other people spoke including Wenona Benally, a member of the Arizona House of Representatives (District 7). She spoke on behalf of State Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, State Rep. Eric Descheenie.
“Our district is notoriously known for its toxic legacy of uranium mining,” Benally said. “We thank the city of Flagstaff for adopting this resolution and agreeing to join us in the fight to stop the cycle of poisoning that has taken the lives of our people and destroyed our communities.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation is in charge of regulating the transporting hazardous materials and uranium ore and the resolution passed in
spite of that fact.
Mayor Coral Evans addressed the constitutionality and legality of the resolution before the vote citing Dr. Martin Luther King’s writing “Letter from Birmingham Jail” saying that he wrote about what he called just and unjust laws.
“I would say in this country, historically, we have seen several laws over the course of time be changed or overturned because we, the people, have determined that they were unjust,” Evans said.
She said the legacy of uranium mining in northern Arizona is unjust and that is shown through the route that the ore will take.
“I believe it is clearly shown through the levels of cancer and cancer related deaths experienced by the indigenous people in our region,” Evans said. “We have indigenous neighbors that have been fighting and asking for relief on this issue for decades, for generations. They are asking us as the largest city in northern Arizona to help them. They say they are getting tired of carrying the load by themselves.”
While Evans asked the council for a 7-0 vote, the final vote was 6-1. Scott Overton opposed the resolution.