Area residents voice mining legacy concerns


Editor’s Note: This is the second article in the two-part series on the uranium-mining legacy film festival.


PUEBLO OF LAGUNA - Evelyn Lance Blanchard, MSW, Ph.D. and a Paguate Village resident, raised concerns about contaminated tools that remained once the uranium- mining boom ended in the 1980s.

"I do support the Mount Taylor stuff.  In the mid 90s my brother Alonzo died. He had lived at Pork Chop Hill in Paguate.  He had retired from the Marines and went to work for the mines like many other people.  We were settling things after he died and we noticed he had big boxes of wrenches and tools.  They were surplus.  I don't know how many families have stockpiled these contaminated tools.  I am wondering if the matter was ever raised in the community,” she said. “This stuff (radiation contamination) does not disappear in 10 years.  The tools that were used in the 80s are scattered all over this place. There were mothers who got cancer by virtue of washing their husband's and son's clothing.”

She added, "I worked for IHS (Indian Health Service), and I remember looking at health reports for the Albuquerque area in the 80s.  One of the leading causes of death in this area was cancer.  We need to be alarmed about the uranium legacy.”

"A lot of us have reached (out) to mining because we needed money to feed our families.  We reached for a paycheck, but it left us with health problems. One of the impacts is on the DNA--the genetic material that gets passed on to future generations. We have knowledge today that we didn't have before.  We have to take responsibility now.  We need to make the connection between what happened then and now.  We need to look at sustainable efforts," concluded Dr. Blanchard.

Sara Schultz, an Americorp Vista worker at Acoma Pueblo, asked if clean energy jobs, such as solar and wind energy, could provide employment for area residents

Colleen Keane, "The River That Harms" producer, encouraged the audience to become actively involved, especially Native American students.  She said that there needs to be more Native producers and writers who can tell the story from a Native American point of view. “The spill that impacted Navajo families was never covered in the mainstream media, but everyone in the world heard about Three Mile Island.  We should not mince words - it’s environmental racism," she said.

Victor Sarracino, former Laguna Tribal Council (1956) member, said, "I was in attendance at the council when the mining agreement was signed.  We asked Anaconda if there was going to be anything harmful because we care for our land.  It is Mother Earth.  They said, 'No.'  We needed jobs.  Jack Nabele flew over Paguate and found high-grade uranium and we received royalties.  After the mining the tribe met with Anaconda and told them they needed to reclaim the land.  They said, 'It's not in the agreement'.”

He concluded, "There were no regulations at the pueblo for mining at that time. We covered the radon in the pit with shale, and then with 15 inches of dirt material. We did our own restoration project and planted trees and other shrubs, which has been successful."

Erik Lujan, a Taos Pueblo student, raised concerns about the high rate of elderly deaths.  “In this area the leading cause of death is cancer.  Many are dying around the age of 52.  This information is in the report from the Indian Health Service for the Laguna area.  We should all be concerned," Lujan explained.

Renewed interest in uranium mining on lands adjacent to Laguna and Acoma Pueblos and the Navajo Nation have caused concerned citizens to question the legacy of prior mining ventures.  The Laguna-Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment (LACSE) was formed in response to recent stories in the media.

LACSE hosted a two-day film festival last month on uranium mining and its negative impacts on Native American communities.  Interested individuals and groups from throughout New Mexico traveled to view the documentary films.