Grand Canyon Is Our Home. Uranium Mining Has No Place Here
Above Photo: ‘This struggle is not about money to us, it is about human life.’ Photograph: Stephen Yelverton Photography/Getty Images
The Havasupai resided in and around Grand Canyon for many centuries. This region is sacred – that is why we oppose the pollution of our land and water
The Havasupai – “people of the blue-green waters” – live in Supai Village, located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Today our lives and water are being threatened by international uranium mining companies because the US government and its 1872 mining law permit uranium mining on federal lands that surround the Grand Canyon.
In 1986, the Kaibab national forest authorized a Canadian-based uranium company to open Canyon mine, a uranium mine near the south rim of Grand Canyon national park. The Havasupai tribe challenged the decision but lost in the ninth circuit court of appeals. Miners were just starting to drill Canyon mine’s shaft in 1991 when falling uranium prices caused the company to shut it down for more than two decades.
Havasupai ancestors share stories of the sacredness of the Grand Canyon and all the mountains that surround it. They have instructed us to protect the waters and the mountains from any environmental contamination. That’s why we stand firm against any uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region.
As uranium prices began to rise again in 2007, the uranium company reopened three closed mines on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, north of the Grand Canyon. More than 10,000 new claims were also filed on those public lands and US Forest Service-administered lands on the south side, above where we live.
In 2009, the Havasupai gathered together hundreds of supporters at Red Butte to oppose the reopening of the nearby Canyon mine. Red Butte is the sacred lungs of our Grandmother Canyon. It is also important to many neighboring tribes. We joined in prayer and ceremony to stop the desecration.
The Havasupai tribe also filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service for failing to consult us and other tribes when it permitted Canyon mine to reopen. They did not consider new evidence of its potential to pollute our people’s sole source of drinking water or to harm Red Butte. We are anxiously awaiting a decision on our case that we argued before the ninth circuit court of appeals in December 2016.
Earlier this year, miners drilled Canyon mine’s shaft to a depth of 1,400ft. But before they could start mining and trucking uranium ore to the mill in Utah, millions of gallons of water needed to be pumped from the mine’s shaft after it was flooded with water from underground sources. The company reported that water in the mine’s containment pond had three times the level of uranium considered safe for human consumption.
During our gathering at Red Butte in 2009, we also prayed for federal agencies to use their authority to prohibit new uranium claims. Local governments that rely on tourism, supervisors of our own Coconino County and business leaders joined with Arizona’s governor in supporting a 20-year ban on new claims on more than a million acres of public land that surround the Grand Canyon.
In 2012, we celebrated the Obama administration’s order that honored our request to stop thousands of unproven claims from going forward and to close the area to prospecting for uranium. Now, misguided politicians in Arizona’s Mohave County are asking Donald Trump to overturn the decision because they claim they need uranium mining to help grow their economy. We oppose their request because we don’t want them to pollute our blue-green waters.
Once again, our sacred water and lands are being attacked to profit other people. For this reason, the Havasupai people and citizens throughout the region have been gathering at Red Butte over the past two days to conduct prayer ceremonies and workshops, and to gain support and bring awareness to the poisonous legacy of uranium all around the Grand Canyon.
The Havasupai are resilient people. We have resided in and around the Grand Canyon for many centuries. This struggle is not about money to us, it is about human life.
Please stand with us to put an end to mining uranium in our home, which has always been the Grand Canyon.
Carletta Tilousi is a member of the Havasupai tribal council.