Leaders from Havasupai Tribe, Conservation Groups Speak Out Against Uranium Mining Near Grand Canyon
Matthew Putesoy, Vice-Chairman of the Havasupai tribe, giving Michael Brune the book I Am the Grand Canyon: The Story of the Havasupai People at the site of Canyon Mine.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune joined Havasupai Tribal leaders and concerned local residents recently in speaking out against uranium mining near Grand Canyon National Park after a visit to see the Canyon uranium mine site. Located just six miles south of the Park, the Canyon Mine illustrates the threats to cultural values, wildlife, and waters posed by uranium mining in the area.
"The majesty of the Grand Canyon has inspired generations of Americans -- including my own children, who have just experienced it for the first time," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. "The Grand Canyon is an essential part of our nation's spiritual and cultural identity, its steep walls and soaring spires an eternal living shrine to nature's awesome power, just as it has always been for the Havasupai people. The Grand Canyon is a place for deep respect and reverence; it is not a place for destructive mining."
Originally approved in 1986, the Canyon Mine has long been the subject of protests by the Havasupai tribe and others objecting to potential uranium mining impacts on regional groundwater, springs, creeks, and cultural values associated with Red Butte, a Traditional Cultural Property.
"It is disappointing to us that the Forest Service is not protecting our sacred site in the Red Butte Traditional Cultural Property from destruction by this uranium mine," said Matthew Putesoy, vice-chairman of the Havasupai tribe. "The Forest Service should be protecting this area and Grand Canyon as well as the waters that are the life-blood for our people. The mine shaft being there is already a desecration."
Groundwater threatened by the mine feeds municipal wells and seeps and springs in Grand Canyon, including Havasu Springs and Havasu Creek. Aquifer Protection Permits issued for the mine by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality do not require monitoring of deep aquifers and do not include remediation plans or bonding to correct deep aquifer contamination.
"I was born inside the Canyon and have lived here all my life. I am Havasupai and have been fighting for the Canyon, life below the Canyon, life above the rim, for almost 40 years," said Rex Tilousi, elder of the Havasupai, respected leader, former Havasupai tribal council member and chair, and grandson of grandmother canyon. "That is our duty. That is our life. If anything happens above the rim, this will affect life below the rim – all the waters we get from above the rim, all these washes that drain into where we live, all the water to the seeps and springs. The springs are the blood veins of our mother earth and every drop of water is important. Water will be like gold in the future, every drop is valuable. We don’t want to see it contaminated. No one has listened. The courts turned us down. I hope someone will listen this time."
The Canyon Mine falls within the one million acres around the Grand Canyon protected from new uranium mining by the Obama administration. While the area is off limits to new mining, the Canyon Mine has been permitted to move forward as an existing claim despite the fact that the last environmental review of the project is more than two decades old. The Havasupai tribe and conservation groups are challenging this misguided decision.
“I am really disappointed that the mining law had no effect on this drilling of Canyon Mine and it is wrong,” said Dianna Sue Uqualla, Havasupai traditionalist. “We, as the human people across the world, are going to be affected by this mine in one way or another. No good will come of it. There is nothing beneficial. It is potent and can kill everything.”
The Brune family stopped at the Grand Canyon as part of a two-week summer road trip to launch the Sierra Club's new Our Wild America campaign. The campaign will build on the Sierra Club's historic work to protect nature, redoubling efforts to save America's wild places for everyone to explore and enjoy. The proposed Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument, which includes the area of the Canyon mine, is one of the areas the Sierra Club will be working with local partners to protect as part of the new campaign.