World Uranium Hearings: Indigenous Peoples Speak Out About Nuclear
by Joanna Macy
First appeared in Nuclear Guardianship Forum, #2, Spring 1993.
In an unprecedented global "speak out"
last September, representatives of indigenous peoples around the world
gathered in Salzburg, Austria to report on the suffering and devastation
inflicted on them by our nuclear adventures. Seventy-five in all, including
Inuit and Cree from Canada, Adivasis from India, Cherokee, Hopi, Shoshone,
and Sioux from the U.S., Tibetans, Mongolians, Kazakhs, Marshall Islanders,
Namibians, Australian aboriginals, and many others, gathered at the World
Uranium Hearing. They testified before an international Board of Listeners,
in which I participated for the Nuclear Guardianship Project. I was also
asked to describe the guardianship concept.
The stories told by the indigenous delegates
constituted an appalling indictment of nuclear colonialism. For it is their
homelands, their bodies, and their ancient cultures that are most immediately
victimized by nuclear power and nuclear weapons. On their lands, which
they hold sacred, 70% of the world's uranium is mined, most of the testing
takes place, and radioactive waste is dumped. These crimes are compounded,
in virtually every case, by secrecy and deception and intimidation on the
part of industry and government. So the speak out was all the more remarkable
and stirring, as is generally the case, when the truth is told.
The event was organized by Claus Biegert,
a visionary German film maker, who now spearheads efforts to bring the
results of the Hearing to a global audience. In the making are a film and
a book of the colorful and moving testimony brought before the Hearing,
a mapping project, and a Trust Fund to support educational, health and
legal aid to the affected indigenous peoples.
At the conclusion of the six day hearing,
the Declaration of Salzburg was drafted and read, and the indigenous delegates
took it home with them. After it has been discussed and amended in their
home communities, it will be ratified in of 1993.
The following are typical examples of how indigenous peoples suffer
under the new, nuclear, colonialism.
A call to the world from its native people has been issued by several North-western
American Indian tribes and the Lacandon Mayas of the Mexican rain forest.
"It is time to stop the progress of ecocide and ethnocide. And it is time
to realize that the common destiny depends on the wise, fair and rational
use of those things provided by the Creator, not just for us, but for the
seven generations to come."
The Marshallese people, who were evacuated and therefore not exposed to
fallout from the 1954 U.S. hydrogen bomb test, were prematurely returned
to their radioactive Pacific islands of Rongelap and Utirik. They were
contaminated by eating coconuts, breadfruit and taro grown on their ancestral
islands, as well as consuming fish from their lagoon.
The International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet reported in 1984 that
China sold the right to store radioactive waste in Tibet to West Germany
for the sum of $6 billion. Unwitting Tibetan populations are subjected
to radiation tolerance tests, and Tibet is the site of major uranium mines
and waste dumps.
The Prairie Island Sioux in Minnesota have lived with two nuclear reactors
on their island for the last 20 years. They, along with all other Native
American tribes, were invited by the Department of Energy to apply for
a $100,000 grant to study the feasibility of locating a centralized Monitored
Retrievable Storage (MRS) facility on their reservation. They accepted
the grant, with the aim of gaining a voice in local Public Utilities Commission
decisions regarding nuclear waste from the reactors on their island. The
tribe reports a history of misinformation propaganda from state and federal
agencies since 1968, when construction of the reactors began. The tribe
has a cancer death risk six times higher than deemed "acceptable" by the
State Health Department.
The Prairie Island Sioux are also fighting a proposed Independent Spent
Fuel Storage Installation on the adjacent reactor site, citing past flooding
of the site and the presence of an earthquake fault. Despite setbacks,
they continue to fight for sovereignty over their land and are using the
grant to educate tribal members about the dangers of waste storage and
to document the inadvisability of a Monitored Retrievable Storage facility
in the area.
Uranium miners of recently independent Namibia have been required to work
18 month shifts before returning to their families for three weeks. This
resulted in workers who did not know their families, and children who did
not know their fathers. Many workers had died from diseases related to
their employment in the mines. The nuclear industry, as a large part of
economic colonialism, has contributed significantly to the economic problems
of Namibia. A basic dilemma for the Namibian govern-ment is the massive
unemployment closing the uranium mines will cause.
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