Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Midnite Uranium Mine

Kateri took me and Rolando to Wellpinit to meet Deb Abrahamson and take a tour of the old uranium mines on the Spokane Reservation. Rolando is opposing cynide-leach gold mining in his native Guatemala and so was very interested to see the effects of uranium mining among the Spokane people.

We drove up to the mine as a group and then walked down into the pit. "Is this dangerous?" I asked, but Deb assured me the radiation would not harm us during such a brief exposure, even though radiation levels at the mine site are 26 times higher than normal. As we walked deeper and deeper into the exposed uranium, I felt a sense of nausea and dread settle over me. I was not prepared for how I would feel in that place. I mean, I was always peripherally aware of the mining on the reservation, but I never visited the site proper. By the time we reached the water's edge, I felt as though I would burst into tears at any moment. The air felt tangibly oppressive, and I had a distinct sense of the unbearable grief experienced by the mother earth and the outrage for everything this place represents. As we drove away, I did cry, and even as I write this several hours later, I still carry a sense of unease in my gut.

As we left, the director showed us places where radioactive dirt was carelessly dumped along the roadside. Some of it was still visible. I was appalled! I had no idea the situation was so bad in our own community. What's worse, the government has been slow to accept any accountability whatsoever for the damage done.

As we discussed the issue of the mine, Rolando pointed out how indigenous people suffer across the world because of corporations that enter our communities to exploit the resources without any regard whatsoever for the wellbeing of the people. It happens in Wellpinit; it happens in Guatemala; it happens everywhere.

Afterwards, we stopped to visit my uncle Pat and discuss the spirituality of the people.

What an amazing, disturbing, powerful day all rolled into one!

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