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In the Grand Canyon, uranium mining threatens a tribe’s survival via The Guardian

[…]

“The water talks to us, it has a voice you can hear all the time. We drink it, we depend on it. If it gets poisoned we are finished,” he said.

Tilousi is vice-chairman of the Havasupai Native Americans, a tiny community and the only one that lives within the depths of the Grand Canyon.

The sole water source in their remote home of Supai Village is the pristine creek. It comes from seeps and springs gravitating out of a vast aquifer, or natural underground reservoir, in the Arizona bedrock on the southern edge of the canyon.

The Havasupai water their beans, corn, melon, peach trees, horses and mules squeezed on to the strip of land they inhabit between the sandstone rock faces.

Tourists from all over the world snap up the limited number of visitor permits made available annually by the Havasupai and hike down a nine-mile trail in order to bathe in the fabled waters.

What they don’t realize is that way above, on that plateau of bedrock within the Grand Canyon watershed, sitting on top of the same aquifer, is a uranium mine preparing to go into production.

The mining company plans to drill down 1,475ft to extract high-grade uranium ore, then truck it 250 miles by road to their processing mill in Utah.

The Canadian company, Energy Fuels Inc, pledges to operate safely, but the Havasupai and others say that’s impossible to promise, especially as too little is known about subterranean water flow.

They argue that any contamination of the groundwater from the mining operations will end up in Havasu Creek, destroying an ancient way of life if they leave the canyon, sickening them if they stay. Significant pollution would also ruin the integrity of the waterfalls and could ultimately threaten the health of the 40 million people downriver who quench their thirst from the mighty Colorado River.

Tourism makes up 80% of the bare bones economy of Supai Village, Tilousi explained, generating income from the small campground and the basic lodge, cafe, grocery store and post office.

[…]

The Havasupai number only around 775 members, one of the smallest tribes in North America.

Tilousi had just returned from a peaceful demonstration near the mine.

Called Canyon Mine, it sits 45 miles east of Supai Village as the crow flies, and six miles south of Grand Canyon national park, on National Forest land.

In 2012 the Obama administration banned new uranium claims around the Grand Canyon watershed for 20 years.

A coalition of local leaders in northern Arizona and southern Utah recently requested the Trump administration lift the ban and expand mining access in the region, to the further horror of the Havasupai. Meanwhile, Canyon Mine can forge ahead because it was already established in the mid-80s, although mothballed before operations truly began, when the uranium market tanked.

The main shaft was drilled last year and the company is getting ready to supply the nuclear weapons and power industries.

[…]

Disproportionate numbers of Navajo people have died prematurely of kidney failure and cancer, illnesses linked to uranium exposure, while government research has shown uranium has in babies born now, according to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“The children are asking me ‘what is uranium? What can it do to us?’ I tell them that if it gets washed into the underground springs when the drills break it up, it can’t be cleaned out. The white man says it will be safe but they have lied to us in the past,” he said.

Also at the gathering, Colleen Kaska attended to her 91-year-old father, Daniel, who was weak and lying on cushions but still singing faintly along to the traditional songs.

Daniel Kaska is a legend among the Havasupai for persuading the community to refuse a payout from the federal government in the 1960s when it wanted to keep them off the plateau for ever.

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