April 30, 2015

How Natural Beekeeping Could Save the Navajo from Uranium Poisoning.

Pollinator Garden

Photo: A beautiful pollinator garden in California. Navajo Bee Works gardens will be designed specifically for the Southwest.

The Navajo are being poisoned by radioactivity from uranium mines leftover from World War two and the cold war.

This summer we are donating honeybee hives, pollinator gardens and medicinal mushrooms to mend the past, heal the land and spur economic development.

A trip to Navajo Land in 2014 opened my eyes to the environmental devastation wrought by uranium mining that left over 2,000 sites that still leak significant amounts of radioactivity into Navajo communities. I met with Navajo who worked in the mines for decades and suffer from cancer, leukemia and Lymphomas. Their livestock and crops have also been damaged threatening their traditional methods of livelihood.

These elders are finally getting medical attention and the mines are getting capped, but the land itself is devastated and the local economies stagnant.

The mines, some enormous pits and others ten-foot holes in the ground, still emit radiation that is 10-20 times higher than the background level. I met Navajo who used them for storage, livestock sheds and even camping not knowing they were dangerous. Many mines are on rivers so the radioactivity flows down to Santa Fe, Phoenix and into the groundwater that the Front Range uses for drinking water. It’s not just a Navajo problem, but everyone’s problem.

Uranium Mines on Navajo Land_Page_2

Photo: This is a map of only some of the over 2,000 uranium mines leaking radiation on Navajo land.

Starting in 1941, permits were given to the Kerr-McGee company to mine for low-grade uranium on Navajo Land using Navajo workers who were paid a dollar an hour. Although high-grade uranium was available from the Belgium Congo the US government wanted a domestic supply for The Manhattan Project. Even if that meant sending Navajo men into poorly ventilated mines to chip away at radioactive rock with picks and shovels and no warning about the dangers involved in inhaling the dust for up to sixteen hours a day.

Recently the Navajo have received a settlement with the mining companies to cap the mines and treat medical issues related to the radiation, but little is slated to heal the land itself or help the Navajo who to make a living.

Natural beekeeping is a perfect solution for environmental rejuvenation and income generation for the Navajo and will help save the bees too. I became a natural beekeeper several years ago when a mentor gave me my first hive and I fell in love with the bees. When I discovered that one in three hives die each year from Colony Collapse Disorder I knew I had to do something.

I took a course with legendary beekeeper Les Crowder and worked up to a dozen hives in my backyard in Santa Fe. In natural beekeeping we don’t kill the queen every year to increase productivity like commercial beekeepers do. We don’t treat the hives with miticides or pesticides nor feed the bees sugar water. Instead, we support the hive to be as healthy and vital as possible.

Natural beekeeping is a perfect fit with Navajo culture. Some Navajo and Anglo friends of mine decided to do something to help the Navajo community recover from this environmental disaster and develop their local economies. That’s how the Navajo Bee Project was created.

Some of the Navajo Bee Project’s goals:

~ Donate twenty-five honeybee hives to pollinate plants and provide honey and beeswax to create income for their Navajo beekeepers.

~ Create ten thousand thousand native bee nests to encourage the over 4,000 types of solitary bees to thrive and pollinate a variety of plants, tress and fruits.

~ Place bat houses to encourage bats to live on the lands to provide natural pest control and handle the pollinators’ night shift.

~ Plant native grasses, flowers and shrubs to help the soil revive and provide stability from flash floods as well as filter rain for the ground water.

~ Create pollinator and bee gardens full of flowers, grasses and shrubs that bees, wasps, moths, hummingbirds, and other pollinators love.

~ Provide mushroom inoculation on land around the worse fifty mines based on Paul Stamet’s research to help increase the rate of detoxification by 10,000 fold.

~ Invite you to visit Navajo Land and see for yourself the awesome work your donation will make possible. Participate in dedication and celebration ceremonies for the beehives and gardens and befriend Navajo who rarely leave Navajo Land or meet Anglos.

We need help. Navajo Land is huge, encompassing a large part of Arizona and New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Utah. Summer on Navajo Land is short so we are trying to get the word out about our fundraiser as quickly as possibly.

Please share our Indiegogo campaign with your social networks and donate as much as you can.


For further information on the Navajo Bee Project: 

We created Navajo Bee Project based on the work of Dr. Tammy Horn of Coal County Beeworks in Kentucky who pioneered the use of honeybees in reclaiming mining lands. Check out their video!

Paul Stamets has done incredible work using mushrooms to revitalize lands damaged by war, oil, toxins and radioactivity. Check out his Ted Talk on using mushrooms to save the world!



Relephant Bonus:

Waylon interviews Tim Brod, Highland Honey’s King of the Bees:


Author: Santiago Romero

Editor: Renee Picard 

Images: courtesy of the author

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Santiago Romero