Bears Ears fight exposes energy companies, U.S. genocide
Trump’s plan to steal 1 million acres from Bears Ears National Monument laid bare the entire history of U.S. genocide against Native nations in the interests of imperialism, energy companies and the military-industrial complex, all of which have been based on that genocide.
The 2-million-acre reduction of Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase/Escalante monuments was the largest cut to federal land protection in U.S. history and an unprecedented takeover in the interests of mining, fossil fuels and uranium corporations.
Five Native nations — the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, and Uintah and Ouray Ute Nations, united as the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition — had won monument status for 1.3 million acres of their sacred ancestral lands with unprecedented Indigenous oversight. Trump’s proclamation was meant to strip control from these Native nations over uranium, oil and gas deposits, as well as the cultural heritage of their ancient ruins. Bears Ears is densely packed with ancient cultural resources. Puebloan ruins in the area are thousands of years old.
Trump and former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s attack on Bears Ears is U.S. imperialism’s continuing genocidal warfare by deadly toxic resource thievery and cultural annihilation. During Zinke’s review of national monuments, the Utah legislature filed a 49-page comment alleging Bears Ears National Monument would destroy the state’s uranium industry. Energy Fuels Resources, owners of the White Mesa Uranium Mill and the Daneros Uranium Mine, lobbied the administration to give them use of monument lands. Chief Operating Officer Mark Chalmers said there are “many known uranium and vanadium deposits located within [Bears Ears].”
The Ute Mountain Ute community is directly threatened by the Daneros Mine and the White Mesa Mill. Energy Fuels wants to increase capacity to haul up to 500,000 tons of uranium through Cedar Mesa, a mountain just below the two buttes called the Bears Ears. Both the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute have suffered devastation from uranium waste and its refinement.
Since 2013, energy companies had asked the Bureau of Land Management to open 100,000 acres of land within the Bears Ears area to oil and gas leasing, according to the Center for Biological Diversity — this though oil has not been pumped in the area since 1992.
History of uranium mining, impact on Diné/Navajo Nation and the arms race
The history of uranium mining is one of total thievery and devastation of Native lands and absolute disregard for its impact on the health of all who live in proximity. Uranium mining is the basis of the infrastructure of the nuclear arms military industry, and the Navajo Nation has taken the brunt of the extraction of this deadly mineral. Uranium is not just poisonous; it is radioactive. Miners are exposed to radiation and carry it home on their clothing to their families and growing children. The winds blow the tailings from the mines across the lands and into nearby waters.
A University of New Mexico study recently found 85 percent of Diné homes are contaminated with uranium, and Navajos living near uranium mines have higher levels of the mineral in their bones than 95 percent of Americans. They even found uranium in Diné infants’ urine.
After the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some 30 million tons of uranium was mined on the Navajo Nation reservation. Diné miners were hired as cheap labor and not informed of the risks to their health. By the early 1960s, miners were getting sick and dying. Survivors, widows and family members in the Uranium Radiation Victims Committee began to fight the corporate abuse of the community and started a 30-year legal battle for workers compensation and damages. By 1993, the Navajo Nation president declared a moratorium on uranium mining.
There have been clusters of birth defects and stillbirths in Diné children in the Shiprock, N.M., uranium mining area. The National Institutes of Health reported in 1992 that more than 320 kinds of congenital conditions had been detected in Indian Health Service hospital records from Shiprock — in these cases the mothers lived near uranium mine dumps and tailings. Some of the fathers had worked in the mines; the report on the NIH website states: “Birth defects increased significantly when either parent worked in the Shiprock electronics assembly plant.”
Uranium prices remain low, but Trump has talked about producing more nuclear weapons. The nuclear arms race began with the intention to make a first-strike attack against the former Soviet Union. After the fall of the USSR, due in part to the relentless economic and political impact of the arms race, nuclear weapons stocks were downsized globally. But the U.S. still has more than all other countries combined; it surrounds the Korean peninsula with nuclear arms, and Trump has spoken of his desire to use them.
The nuclear energy industry exists because the military-industrial complex required it to process enough refined uranium to make thousands of nuclear weapons. Uranium ore is processed into yellowcake to use in nuclear reactors; the chain reaction generates heat in the reactors and produces fissile material required to make nuclear bombs. The military also uses leftover depleted uranium in armor plating and bullets. The use of DU by the U.S. military has left parts of Iraq thoroughly poisoned to the extent that women in Fallujah have been warned to not get pregnant due to the resulting horrendous birth defects.
Sources for this article include bearsearscoalition.org, Deseret News, High Country News, Indian Country Today, The Navajo Nation, Salt Lake City Tribune, Washington Post (Dec. 15, 2017).