Cry Me a River: Uranium and Genocide in Indian Country
Article and photos by Brenda Norrell, Censored News
Photos top: Tombstones of the children who never came home at Carlisle Indian School in Penn. (Click on photo to enlarge) Photo 2: Gilbert Badoni, Navajo from Cudei near Shiprock, N.M., shows a poster of his family in a southwestern Colorado uranium mining camp. All the members of his family developed cancer or lung disease, including his later father who died of cancer. Gilbert, as a child in lower left, said the United States government used Navajos as guinea pigs in Cold War uranium mining camps.
CHUSKA MOUNTAINS, N.M. — When Paul Zimmerman writes in his new book about the Rio Puerco and the Four Corners, he calls out the names of the cancers and gives voice to the poisoned places and streams. Zimmerman is not just writing empty words.
Zimmerman writes of the national sacrifice area that the mainstream media and the spin doctors would have everyone forget, where the corners of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado meet, in his new book, A Primer in the Art of Deception: The Cult of Nuclearists, Uranium Weapons and Fraudulent Science.
“A report in 1972 by the National Academy of Science suggested that the Four Corners area be designated a ‘national sacrifice area,’” he writes.
Then, too, he writes of the Rio Puerco, the wash that flowed near my home when I lived in Houck, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation in the 1980s. The radioactive water flowed from the Churck Rock, N.M., tailings spill on down to Sanders, where non-Indians were also dying of cancer, and it flowed by New Lands, Nahata Dziil Chapter, where Navajos were relocated from their homes on Black Mesa. They moved there from communities like Dinnebeto. Some elderly Navajos died there in New Lands, not just from the new cancers, but from broken hearts.
Zimmerman points out there was plenty of evidence of cancers from Cold War uranium mining and radioactive tailings left behind, but few studies were commissioned to document it. In the early 1980s, I asked the Indian Health Service about the rates of death around the uranium mines and power plants. No studies were ever conducted, according to the IHS press officer. I was shocked. Fresh out of graduate school with a master’s degree in health for developing nations, I really could not believe it.
This week, Zimmerman released a chapter of his new book to aid the struggles of Indigenous Peoples, after reading about the Havasupai Gathering to Halt Uranium Mining in the Grand Canyon.
As I read his chapter, I am flooded with memories, memories of people dying, radioactive rocks and the deception and censorship that continues on the Navajo Nation.
In the 1990s, USA Today asked me to report on the uranium tailings and deaths at Red Valley and Cove near Shiprock, N.M. In every home I visited, at least one Navajo had cancer and their family members had died of cancer. In some homes, every family member had cancer. In one home, an eighty-year-old Navajo woman looked at the huge rocks that her home was made of. She said some men came with a Geiger counter and told her the rocks were extremely radioactive. Then, on another day, I walked beside the radioactive rocks strewn in Gilbert Badoni’s backyard near Shiprock.
The dust we breathed at Red Valley and Cove was radioactive.
When the Dine’ (Navajo) in the south and Dene in the north mined uranium without protective clothing, the US and Canada knew they were sending Native American miners to their deaths.
“Declassified documents from the atomic weapons and energy program in the United States confirm that official secret talks on the health hazards of uranium mining were discussed both in Washington and Ottawa. In 1932, even before the Manhattan Project, the Department of Mines in Canada published studies of the mine at Port Radium, warning of the hazard of radon inhalation and ‘the dangers from inhalation of radioactive dust.’ Blood studies of miners confirmed that breathing air with even small amounts of radon was detrimental to health,” Zimmerman writes.
When I moved to the Navajo Nation in 1979, I was a nutrition educator with the Navajo Hopi WIC Program. I had no intention of becoming a news reporter or an activist. Later in the 1980s, as a news reporter, I reported on Peabody Coal and its claim that it was not damaging the land or aquifer on Black Mesa.
Louise Benally, resisting relocation at Big Mountain said, “These big corporations lie you know.”
No, I didn’t know that then. But I know that now.
Earl Tulley, Navajo from Blue Gap, said something that changed my life. Tulley told me about the multi-national corporations, how they seize the land and resources of Indigenous Peoples, not just on the Navajo Nation, but around the world.
But it wasn’t until I covered federal court in Prescott, Arizona, as a stringer for Associated Press, that I learned of how it all continues. Covering the Earth First! trial in the 90s, I realized that federal judges and federal prosecutors are on the same team. The FBI can manipulate and manufacture evidence, even drive people to a so-called crime if the guys don’t have a ride.
During the federal trial of former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald, it became obvious: If you are an American Indian, you can forget about justice. Later, during the trials of American Indian activists it was clear: Federal prosecutors can just write a script and send people to prison.
There are parts of the American justice system concealed from most people: Distorted facts and planted evidence. News reporters seldom learn of the witnesses who receive federal plea agreements and lie on the witness stand. Few people except news reporters, ever sit through these long, and tediously dull at times, federal trials which can go on for months.
A three month trial of American Indians, or environmentalists, will smash any romantic myth about justice for all in the US court system.
The bias and politics embedded within the justice system, and the back door deals of Congressmen with the corporations who bankroll them, seldom make the evening news.
Arizona Sen. John McCain and company brought about the so-called Navajo Hopi land dispute, which was actually a sweetheart deal for Peabody Coal mining on Black Mesa. When they emerged from the back door deals, they swiftly went out to throw candy to Native Americans in the parades, claiming they were the best friends of Indian country.
Money is the reason the Navajo Nation Council went along with coal mining on Black Mesa. The revenues from coal mines, power plants and oil and gas wells pay the salaries and expense accounts of the Navajo councilmen and Navajo President.
While I was on Mount Graham in Arizona at the Sacred Run, I learned of another part of the story. I learned about Skull and Bones, the Yale secret society. Former San Carlos Apache Councilman Raleigh Thompson told me of the meeting with Skull and Bones. Thompson was there.
Thompson told how the Skull and Bones members, including President George HW Bush’s brother Jonathan Bush and an attorney, tried to silence the San Carlos Apache leaders. The San Carlos Apaches were seeking the return of Geronimo’s skull, during meetings in New York in the 1980s. Geronimo had asked to be buried in the mountains on San Carlos.
The more I read from the book Secrets of the Tomb, the more it became obvious that the Skull and Bones members weren’t just seizing money. Their desire was for power. They wanted world domination.
So, now years later, I see the Skull and Bones Society rear its head again in the Desert Rock power plant deal on the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners, protested by Navajos living on the land in the longstanding protest Dooda Desert Rock. Follow the money at Sithe Global and it leads back to Blackstone and a member of Skull and Bones.
Skull and Bones members controlled production of the first atomic bomb, according to Alexandra Robbins, author of Secrets of the Tomb.
Zimmerman writes of this time, “The Manhattan Project is inaugurated, physicists are secretly recruited, clandestine outposts spring up in the wilderness, and a fevered race against time ensues to transform abstract theories into a deliverable weapon.”
The proposed Desert Rock power plant would be in the Four Corners, the same “national sacrifice area,” where the Cold War uranium mines, coal mines, power plants and oil and gas wells are already polluting and causing disease and death. The air, land and water are contaminated and the region is desecrated. It is the Navajos sacred place of origin, Dinetah, a fact voiced by Bahe Katenay, Navajo from Big Mountain, and censored.
Several years before Dan Evehema passed to the Spirit World, relaxing on his couch after protesting in the rain backhoes and development on Hopiland, at the age of 104, he shared truth, speaking through a translator.
Evehema said the Hopi Sinom never authorized or recognized the establishment of the Hopi Tribal Council, a puppet of the US government.
In the early Twentieth Century, Hopi were imprisoned at Alcatraz for refusing to cooperate with the US. In the latter part of the century, when the threat of forced relocation of Navajos was great, traditional Hopi, including Evehema and Thomas Banyacya, stood with and supported Navajos at Big Mountain. Mainstream reporters don’t like to report these facts, since it deflates their superficial coverage, based on corporate press releases.
As I was being censored out of the news business (at least the type that results in a paycheck) Louise Benally of Big Mountain once again revealed the truth of the times. When she compared the war in Iraq to the Longest Walk of Navajos to Bosque Redondo, she spoke of the oppression and deceptions of the US colonizers, comparing the torture and starvation of this death walk to what the US was doing in Iraq. Benally was censored.
It was more than just a censored story. It was a statement of the times we live in: Hush words too profound to be written. The times had come full circle. Indian people once oppressed by US colonizers were now serving as US soldiers for US colonizers, killing other Indigenous Peoples. Victims had become perpetrators.
During much of the Twentieth Century, Indian children in the US, Canada and Australia were kidnapped. Stolen from their parents, these children were placed in boarding schools. In Canada, the residential schools were run by churches. In all three countries, young children were routinely abused, sexually abused and even murdered.
On the Longest Walk in 2008, while broadcasting across America, we saw the marsh at Haskell in Kansas. Here, there are unmarked graves of the children who never came home. (Photo: Haskell babies at Haskell Indian Naitons University in Kansas.)
At Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, we read the tombstones in the rows of tiny graves, the names of the children who never came home. (Photo: Carlisle Indian School, click photo to enlarge.)
In the US, Canada and Australia, children were forbidden to speak their Native tongue, which carried their songs and ceremonies. Indian children were beaten, locked in cellars, tortured and raped. Many died of pneumonia, malnutrition and broken hearts. Some were shot trying to escape.
At Muscowequan Catholic residential school in Lestock, Saskatchewan, Canada, a young girl was raped by a priest. When she gave birth, the baby was thrown into the furnace and burned alive in front of child survivor Irene Favel (http://www.hiddenfromhistory.org/ .)
In the US, the young boys who survived were militarized, made into US soldiers.
Zimmerman writes that Australia, like Canada and US, carried out a holocaust of Aboriginal peoples. “What occurred in Australia is a mirror image of the holocaust visited on Native Americans. When the British claimed sovereignty over Australia, they commenced a 200 year campaign of dispossession, oppression, subjugation and genocide of Aboriginal peoples.”
Indigenous Peoples around the world were targeted by uranium mining, including the Dene in the north, linked to Dine’ (Navajo) in the south by the common root of the Athabascan language. From the Dine’ and Dene and around the earth to Australia, there was a recipe for death for Indigenous Peoples by the power mongers.
The US policy of seizing the land and destroying the air, water and soil is clear in Nevada and Utah. While Western Shoshone fight the nuclear dump on their territory at Yucca Mountain in what is known as Nevada, Goshutes at Skull Valley in Utah are neighbors with US biological and chemical weapons testing.
Zimmerman writes, “Dugway Proving Ground has tested VX nerve gas, leading in 1968 to the ‘accidental’ killing of 6,400 sheep grazing in Skull Valley, whose toxic carcasses were then buried on the reservation without the tribe’s knowledge, let alone approval. The US Army stores half its chemical weapon stockpile nearby, and is burning it in an incinerator prone to leaks; jets from Hill Air Force Base drop bombs on Wendover Bombing Range, and fighter crashes and misfired missiles have struck nearby. Tribal members’ health is undoubtedly adversely impacted by this alphabet soup of toxins.”
Zimmerman makes it clear that the genocide of Indigenous Peoples was not an accident. Indigenous People were targeted with death by uranium mining and nuclear dumping. Indian people were targeted with destruction that would carry on for generations, both in their genetic matter and in their soil, air and water.
One ingredient in the recipe for death is division: Divide and control the people and the land. This is what is happening at the southern and northern borders on Indian lands. Just as the US continues the war in Iraq and Afghanistan for war profiteers and politics, the racism-fueled US border hysteria results in billions for border wall builders, security companies and private prisons.
It comes as no surprise that the Israeli defense contractor responsible for the Apartheid Wall in Palestine, Elbit Systems, was subcontracted by Boeing Co. to work on the spy towers on the US/Mexico border. Militarized borders mean dollars, oppression and power.
The US Border Patrol agents harass Indian people at the US borders, even murder people of color on the border at point blank range. More often than not, the murdering border agents walk away free from the courts. Meanwhile, the US under the guise of homeland security, seizes a long strip of land — the US/Mexico corridor from California to Texas –including that of the Lipan Apache in Texas. As Indigenous Peoples in the south are pushed off their lands, corn fields seized by corporations, they walk north to survive, many dying in the Southwest desert.
Another ingredient in US genocide in Indian country is internal political division and turmoil: Distract the people with political turmoil, to make it easier to steal their water and land rights. If that doesn’t work, put them in prison. In Central and South America, the mining companies have added another step: Assassinate them.
The US made sure that Latin countries were able to carry out torture and assassinations by training leaders and military personnel at the School of the Americas. Even Chiquita Bananas admitted in court that they hired assassins to kill anyone who opposed the company, including Indigenous Peoples and farmers, in Colombia.
So, when Zimmerman writes of uranium and the sacrifices of Indigenous Peoples, those are not just empty words. They are words that mark the graves, words that name the cancers, words that mark the rivers and words that give rise to names.
To give voice to a name is to break the silence.
Thank you Paul Zimmerman for sharing this chapter with all of us.
Read Zimmerman’s chapter:
Interviews with Louise Benally and Bahe Katenay, censored by editors, are published in full at:
Zimmerman: “Oh, if only we could comfort ourselves by relegating the crimes of colonial expansionism to a bygone era, distancing ourselves and our supposed enlightenment from the deeds of our backward ancestors. But to do so would be reprehensible. In truth, the same ugly vector of attitude and behavior that facilitated colonialism has been an indispensable element in the development of nuclear weapons and the current deployment of radiological weapons.”
Photos top: Tombstones of the children who never came home at Carlisle Indian School, Penn. Photo 2: Gilbert Badoni, Navajo; Photo 3: Louise Benally of Big Mountain, Navajo; Photo 4: Dan Evehema, Hopi; Photo 5: Tombstones of children at Carlisle Indian School; Photo 6: Dirt road near the border in California, Kumeyaay territory. Photos by Brenda Norrell
Posted on September 18, 2009, in Civil & Human Rights, Ecological Struggles, Indigenous Struggles, State Repression and tagged North America - The United States. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Cry Me a River: Uranium and Genocide in Indian Country.