A Reflection on America’s Chernobyl
From the road, taking part in the
The 12th Annual Walk for a New Spring
This year’s theme – “For the People, For the Earth: Community, Sustainability, Disarmament” is a call for peace and non-proliferation.
Walking from the heart of winter into the beginning of spring (feb.14th to apr. 5th) the walk will go from Leverett, MA to Washington D.C. visiting dozens of communities and nuclear reactors and working to bring awareness to the nuclear chain, as well as commemorating the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X.
This is the 12th year the New England Peace Pagoda has organized such a walk, beginning after 9/11 as a way to create peace and spark dialogue about the violence and fear experienced in the nation and in the world.
This year the walk is honored to host Charmaine White Face a representative from the Oglala Sioux nation and coordinator of the environmental group Defenders of the Black Hills along the journey for the first 10 days.
Charmaine is working to protect and preserve the environment of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty Territory, a land that spans parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska.
Violation of the 1868 Treaty
According to the 1868 Treaty this land is set aside for “the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation” of the Great Sioux Nation.
This land is home to the Black Hills, a site which has been sacred to many indigenous groups for thousands of years (you may recognize this area as the location of Mt. Rushmore).
Charmaine recounts the history of her people and the egregious and deliberate acts committed by the US govt that have led to poverty and a ruined economy, desecration of sacred sites, and the pollution of the land, water and wildlife of the Great Sioux Nation.
She begins the presentation in 1851 with the first treaty signed between the Sioux and the U.S. and works her way to present day, sharing the story of “America’s Chernobyl”.
“the United States now solemnly agrees that no persons, except those herein designated and authorized so to do, and except such officers, agents, and employees of the government as may be authorized to enter upon Indian reservations in discharge of duties enjoined by law, shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in the territory described in this article, or in such territory as may be added to this reservation for the use of said Indians, and henceforth they will and do hereby relinquish all claims or right in and to any portion of the United States or Territories, except such as is embraced within the limits aforesaid, and except as hereinafter provided.” –Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868
According to the Treaty this land was set aside for the “undisturbed use and occupation” of the Sioux Nation.
In 1874 gold was discovered in the black hills.
Despite the treaty signed by the Sioux Nation and the United States only 6 years prior, President Ulysses Grant looked the other way so that mining groups and private citizens could have access to the gold.
When these settlers came in and began illegally occupying the land they also began actively killing off the buffalo in an attempt to weaken the Sioux Nation and force them onto Prisoner of War camps (today known as reservations).
By the time they were finished there were only 29 buffalo left.
For the people of the Northern Great Plains the buffalo served a strong spiritual and economic connection.
The people of the Sioux Nation used each part of the buffalo. The buffalo was used in trade with other nations for food (vegetables, etc.,) and other goods that were needed.
The government of Ulysses Grant showed total disregard for the treaties signed between these two nations, and successfully pushed Sioux people further back into much smaller encampments on their own land which destroyed the economy and and damaged their spiritual practice.
From this time forward the US continued to occupy the land and attempt to control the territory for use of its abundant natural resources.
Citizens and corporations began living in the Sioux Nation and mining the land of gold, silver, oil, nickel and uranium. In an attempt to make as much money as possible, these companies continued to mine and steal as many resources as they could, as fast as they could manage, with no regard for the laws in place or respect for holy sites.
After they successfully split the atom, the government was in a rush accumulate as much uranium as they possibly could for nuclear weapons and their nuclear energy program (atoms for peace).
From the mid 50s on throughout the 70s there was an incredible amount of uranium mining done in the United States.
This mining was mainly done in the Southwest on Dine or Navajo territory and on the territory of the Great Sioux Nation.
In 1979 following the meltdown at Three Mile Island uranium sale prices plummeted. Uranium mining companies and other people living in the Treaty Territory simply packed up and left. None of the people renting land were held responsible for the mine sites, the hundreds of open bore holes left in the land, or the radioactive waste tailings.
On this Treaty Territory there is a total of 3,272 abandoned open pit uranium mines.
These mines vary greatly in size from small holes or prospects dug up with by individuals with a backhoe searching for uranium near their homes, to one square mile in size (Darrow Pitts Mine) created by mining companies with massive drilling and mining equipment.
These mines remain highly radioactive.
In comparison with a working nuclear reactor where radiation levels are around 7 microRems per hour, the radiation levels coming from the Riley Pass Mine alone measure at 1400 microRems per hour.
Dr. Kearfott, a nuclear physics Professor at the University of Michigan has stated that,
“The radiation levels in parts I visited with my students were higher
than those in evacuated zones around Fukushima nuclear disaster.”
How is it that the entire world has heard of Fukushima, but many people right here in North America have no idea what is going on in Rapid City, South Dakota, the center of the country?
Riley Pass Mine is approximately 40 miles away from Mount Rushmore.
These “faces of democracy” bring about 3 million tourists a year to South Dakota where the home population is roughly 800,000 people.
These tourists bring money into the state and it is highly unlikely that 3 million people a year would continue to visit South Dakota if they knew that when they stayed on their patriotic family vacations they were drinking radioactive water, eating radioactive burgers, and breathing in uranium dust.
The elected officials of South Dakota are well aware of this, and have no interest in making this information public knowledge and destroying the main source of their economy.
The radiation from these mines is everywhere.
It is in our air, our water, our food and our land.
It is accumulating in our bodies and permanently altering our human DNA chain. It has caused the people of the northern plains to have the highest cancer rates in the country.
Honor the legal treaties of 1851 and ’68 and say no to uranium mining in the Sioux Nation, in the rest of the United States, and in the world.
Charmaine often says, “We have to give people a chance to be good”.
There are some occasions when you learn the truth and are forced to act. Let this be one such occasion.
The United States Government has continued to violate the treaties of the Great Sioux Nation (and other indigenous nations in and outside of this country) and show total disregard for the health and safety of its people.
The battle to end uranium mining across the globe is not simply a battle against racism and militarism, and it is not just a fight for indigenous people – it is a fight for survival.
Uranium has no boundaries.
Uranium, radiation – they do not discriminate against ethnicity or nation.
They do not recognize borders.
We demand an end to uranium mining
Charmaine and the Defenders of the Black Hills have written a bill that holds uranium mining companies responsible for the clean up of abandoned mines and calls for a moratorium on any further uranium mining until all of the current mines have been closed.
This bill is called the
Uranium Exploration and Mining Accountability Act.
It is imperative that we get this bill passed, and it cannot happen without your help.
Stand in solidarity with the traditional owners of the world and demand an end to uranium mining, and hold the US government responsible cleaning up the mess it has created and for honoring native treaties!
There is power in the people, and the people need to know what is happening under the guise of democracy.
Everyone in the country should know about “America’s Chernobyl” and everyone should know about the work of Defenders of the Black Hills.
What you can do
- Follow the walk on Twitter, Facebook, & Tumblr
- Use hashtags #peacewalks, rememberfukushima & defendblackhills to get the country talking about America’s Chernobyl
- Retweet and ask @democracynow to interview Charmaine White Face and to make this information public knowledge
- Check DefendBlackHills & Facebook
- Watch, download, or listen to America’s Chernobyl
- Join the walk!
- Bring the Uranium Exploration and Accountability Act to your local politicians and ask them to sponsor the bill
- Download & sign the petition to First Lady Michelle Obama asking her to bring attention to the mines
- Download & sign the letter to President Obama asking him to keep his promise for a nuclear free world
- Sacred Land, Poisoned Peoples;
- A Statement to the 19th IPPNW World Congress
- The Death That Creeps From The Earth
- Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
Everyone deserves access to clean water, clean air, clean food and everyone deserves to know the truth.
We are walking across the country with a message of peace and democracy.
Each step is a prayer for the people and for the earth.
Please take action in whatever way you can to support the work for a nuclear free future.
Defenders of the Black Hills, site
1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, ourdocuments.gov
Bison Hunting, wikipedia
Black Hills Gold Rush, wikipedia
Teaching the 1868 Treaty, archives.gov
Higher cancer rates among American Indians, University of Minnesota
Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975 – 2004
Featuring Cancer in American Indians and Alaska Natives, digital commons
Aboriginal elder challenges Olympic Dam Expansion, adelaidenow