It is 5:30 a.m.
The sun hasn’t quite enveloped the desert landscape, but the heat is still present in the air. You and your family, native and indigenous to this land since before my people kept historical records, are still sleeping soundly in your modest home.
Or, you are already knee-deep into tending to your animals, crops, and other farm duties. You take these same animals down to the Rio Puerco, your water source for all living beings and crops on your land.
Suddenly, you see a rushing stream of yellowish water barreling down this beautiful canyon. It is heading straight for your family, your land, your crops, your animals—your livelihood. This water is present because a worker’s information was ignored.
This water is racing toward you because money is somehow always more important than human life. This water has arrived because building a nuclear arsenal takes precedence over treaties settled hundreds of years ago, forgotten in the shadow of dollar signs.
In 1979, 1,100 tons of uranium waste and 94 million gallons of radioactive water rushed down the Rio Puerco in Church Rock, New Mexico.
This section of land belongs to the Navajo Nation, and the Rio Puerco is the lifeline that flows through their land and sustains the ecosystem. The nuclear disaster at Church Rock is the single largest nuclear disaster in United States history, second only to Chernobyl, which is the worst ever.
At this point, you may be asking why you do not know much, if anything, about this tragic event.
It’s probably for the same reason you likely do not know much, if anything, about the fact that Trump’s administration began talks to reopen the Grand Canyon for uranium mining.
This land they want to drill into belongs to the Havasupai tribe, a part of the Navajo Nation. This tribe is completely self-sufficient in their daily lives. A possible disaster like Church Rock at the Grand Canyon would prove catastrophic for this small section of the Navajo Nation. If their water supply was contaminated, their entire ecosystem could shut down.
Still, 40 years after Church Rock, the physical effects on the residents are ever-present. There is a high rate of cancer and diabetes in the tribe, which didn’t run in their families before that last couple of generations. Perfect timing for a massive nuclear event to completely rewire the genetics of these forgotten-about souls.
I wonder how the nation will recover from this? Why does our government—a government built off the genocide of these indigenous individuals while handing them scraps of their own land in return—refuse to help places like Church Rock with the cleanup of their mess? I mostly wonder what we can do to help, be of benefit, be of service, and how to be present for tribes like the Havasupai.
Knowledge is our most powerful tool.
I wasn’t aware of the Church Rock incident until recently. I knew little about uranium mining, its effects on the environment, and the injustices involving these mines and indigenous tribes. I researched, researched, and researched.
Do the same!
Educate yourself all you can. Tell this story to all who will listen. Tell this story to all who won’t listen (within the scope of boundaries and such).
Make Facebook posts about it while tagging yourself at locations like the Grand Canyon to garner attention. Post an Instagram story with photos and links to fact-checked articles and websites.
Tweet a quick link and tag places like the EPA (the United States Environmental Protection Agency), and the UNC (the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). You get the gist; spread the word “they” are not spreading.
Along with helping others learn and grow in the realm of environmental knowledge, brush up on the alternative form of energy that is limitless and ever sustainable: solar power.
Solar power is inexhaustible, abundant, and the best alternative form of energy around—no mining; no contaminated water; no lives sacrificed for the land they own. Now, with solar power, rinse and repeat the above!
The biggest mistake I used to make is assuming others know things. This would lead me to pass biased judgment. It also stopped me from sharing my knowledge with anyone. I just assumed what I knew was common knowledge.
Do not be afraid to strike up that conversation or share that post online! Those who do not know and are willing to learn will listen. While those who are not quite to the point of accepting yet may not listen, you at least have attracted their attention.
Water is life.