Navajos Receive Award for Banning Uranium Mining

The Karl Souder Water Protection Award of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center was awarded to three Navajos, including a youth and a tribal councilman, for their role in banning uranium mining on the Navajo Nation.

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Karl Souder Water Protection Award of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center was awarded to three Navajos, including a youth and a tribal councilman, for their role in banning uranium mining on the Navajo Nation.

"We feel it is wrong to threaten either an individual or a society so that one may gain for one's self," said Navajo Councilman George Arthur, representing the Burnham, Nenahnezad and San Juan chapters in New Mexico.

Arthur sponsored the legislation -- the Dine' Natural Resources Protection Act, passed by the Navajo Nation Council in April -- which banned uranium mining and processing on the Navajo Nation.

"I believe in economic development and that there is a place for it. However, there is a choice to be made -- whether we make a dollar or survive for generations to come.

"We decided it was more important to have generations and generations after us," said Arthur, chairman of the council's resource committee, as he accepted his award.

Lynnea K. Smith, of the Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining, also received the water protection award along with Esther Yazzie-Lewis, president of the Southwest Research Center board.

Smith was 21 years old when she urged the Navajo Nation Council to pass legislation banning uranium mining.

During the awards ceremony, Smith was honored for her efforts to prevent uranium mining at Crownpoint, N.M., which began when she was a junior in high school. She said the struggle is ongoing and the fight is not over.

"We are still committed to fight on a daily basis. Just because you pass a piece of legislation does not mean the battle is over," she said.

ENDAUM is currently fighting a proposal for in situ uranium mining by Hydro Resources, Inc., approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be carried out at the Navajo Nation's borders and in checkerboard land areas in the Crownpoint and Church Rock.

Praising ENDAUM, Arthur said, "They stood up for what they believed in when strong forces were opposing them."

Yazzie-Lewis accepted the award on behalf of the late Harris Arthur, brother of George Arthur and leader in the struggle for Navajo rights and justice.

"There are a lot of unsung heroes and I think Harris received this award in a very special way. I believe there is a time and a place for everything, and time presented to us Harris Arthur. He stepped forward to tell us to be patient and to fight one more fight and he made it happen," Yazzie-Lewis said.

Presenting the award was Emily Souder, the 13-year-old daughter of the late Karl Souder for whom the award is named.

During the presentation, Douglas Meiklejohn, director of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said that the enactment of the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act by the council was one of the most significant developments in the state pertaining to protection of water and the environment.

Meiklejohn commended Arthur for having the dedication and perseverance to see that the law was passed, especially in the face of powerful opposition. "He consistently told us that he would get this done, and he did," Meiklejohn said.

Arthur thanked Eric Jantz from the New Mexico Environmental Law Center and Frank Seanez from the Navajo Nation Office of Legislative Counsel for providing guidance in the drafting of the legislation.

Meiklejohn said that the center has been involved in the 10-year struggle to prevent uranium mining around Crownpoint with ENDAUM and the Navajo Nation. Jantz, lawyer with the center, and Smith presented the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act to the council along with Arthur.

Don Hancock, recipient of the center's Griff Salisbury Environmental Protection Award, praised the tremendous job done by the Navajo Nation.

"It takes many people to make the kind of accomplishment happen that the Dine' have done. We have a lot of resources in this state that many people want to use or exploit," Hancock said.

Hancock remembered the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

"You realize the central role that New Mexico has played in the world and will continue to play in the future."

Meanwhile in Washington, Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., praised Navajos in the Crownpoint and Church Rock area for their struggle, as he applauded the deletion of $30 million in federal subsidies for uranium mining from the federal energy bill.

"At a time of record deficits, we should not be handing out $30 million in taxpayer dollars to the uranium industry, a mature industry that has existed in the United States for more than half a century," Udall said in a written statement.

"While a recent court ruling has allowed a company to proceed with their mining plans in New Mexico, they will not be receiving federal funding to do it.

"I applaud the local citizens in Church Rock and Crownpoint who raised their voices in opposition to this misguided plan. Congress has listened."

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News