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SHIPROCK — The Navajo Nation Council began collecting public comment to help craft a position statement regarding the repercussions of past uranium mining activities on the Navajo Nation.

The council's action arises from a bill Delegate Kee Allen Begay Jr. introduced last year that proposed creating a five-page position statement on the legacy of uranium mining and the environmental cleanup of abandoned uranium mines and former mill sites.

Although the bill cleared the Resources and Development Committee and the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee, the Navajo Nation Council tabled it on Jan. 29 and referred it back to the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee for further evaluation.

Begay subsequently dropped his sponsorship later that day.

On Feb. 26, the Office of the Speaker announced that four public hearings were scheduled to collect comments from community members about uranium mining.

Such remarks were lacking from Begay's bill, as noted by several delegates during the council session in January.

Community wants a say

Speaker Seth Damon explained at the public hearing on March 5 in Shiprock that the community's perspective is important to understand before delegates return to developing the position statement.

"We're trying to put every possible piece of recognition into a position statement for the Navajo Nation that we will eventually hand over to the federal government," Damon said.

Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty said the council wants to develop a statement that "encompasses the heart of the people."

Crotty represents seven chapters in the Northern Agency, where uranium was heavily mined, was a cosponsor of Begay's bill.

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Among those attending the hearing were former uranium mine workers, family members and chapter officials from Shiprock, Beclabito, Cove and Teec Nos Pos.

Perry Charley serves three roles that involve uranium – a community member, a scientist and a northern representative on the Diné Uranium Radiation Commission.

While he urged the clean-up of abandoned uranium mine sites, he also questioned a section of the proposed position statement that called for the federal government to conduct comprehensive studies on groundwater and on health impacts.

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"How long are we going to continue studying the Navajo people? It's been 70 years. I, myself, am guilty of doing that for 46 years as a scientist. We have too many studies, we have too many risk assessments. … Our people who are affected, the Diné people, are requesting action," Charley said.

Comments from others centered on health effects from uranium work, access to medical care, continued trauma to communities, and difficulties filing claims under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

Former underground uranium miner Phillip Harrison Sr. summarized what many were thinking.

"We did a lot as Navajo people. We have to be honored. We have to tell Washington (D.C.) that there's still justice that needs to be done," he said.

The effort to collect comments continued March 6 with a public hearing in Crownpoint. 

Additional hearings will be held on March 13 at the Chinle Community Center in Chinle, Arizona, and on March 14 in Tuba City, Arizona. Each session begins at 9 a.m.

A location for the public hearing in Tuba City will be announced later, according to the Office of the Speaker.

To submit a comment by mail, send it to the Naabik'íyáti' Committee, c/o Tom Platero, P.O. Box 3390, Window Rock, AZ 86515.

Comments can also be emailed to comments@navajo-nsn.gov.

From 2018: Navajo commission hears report from feds about abandoned uranium mines

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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