HG [JRS] ARTICLES ON THE NATIVE
AMERICAN URANIUM TRAGEDY
PETER MACDONALD AND THE NAVAJO [DINE']
NATION - HUNTER GRAY - AUGUST 27 2001
[Please scroll down]
"THE ROCK THAT KILLS"
I have been much involved -- and have done some
writing -- on the extremely tragic effects of uranium mining, milling, and refining
on Native people and the Earth. Here are several articles of mine: one in 1957
(when I was 23) and two more that came much later. The FBI specifically noted, a
number of times, the 1957 piece in The American Socialist. During the
1979-81 period, when I was Chair of Educational and Social Sciences at Navajo Community
College (now Dine' College), Navajo Nation, the Albuquerque Regional Office of FBI --
aware of my human rights activities and very much my uranium concerns -- made an
extraordinarily vicious and surreptitious attack on me. This backfired -- I came
through quite OK as I always do -- and eventually we got the FBI documents via FOIA.
BRIEF NOTE [HUNTER BEAR] APRIL
Tuba City -- not a city by any stretch -- isn't at
Corners in the immediate or even close/general sense. North of Flagstaff
and on the far western edge of the vast Navajo Reservation -- off Highway
89, the road to Utah -- it does border the Hopi Reservation [at Moenkopi]
and has some Hopi residents. When I was a kid, we'd go up to Tuba to visit
people and, along the way, I'd pick up pieces of canary yellow carnotite
[uranium] ore for my ore collection. Decades later, talking in a UND class
about the hideous uranium tragedies throughout Navajoland and the Laguna
country and environs -- as well as the lethal effects further north via
Desert Rock NV nuclear testing -- I mentioned the bright yellow carnotite I
used to pick up between the trading town of Cameron and Tuba and the fact
that its deadly effects often took decades to fully manifest themselves.. A
Hopi woman in the class, married to a Turtle Mountain Chippewa, spoke up in
obviously panicky fashion. Indicating she was from Moenkopi, she said her
family used to stud the roof of their home with big pieces of carnotite.
"Do you think it's damaged us?" she asked. I grinned. "I'm OK," I told
her -- "and I had a hell of a big box of it under my bed at Flag for years."
She was reassured, and even more so when I explained that carnotite is
dangerous only when it's broken in the mining/milling/refining process. H
We're yet again indebted to Jyri in Finland
for some substantive and timely material. It's now cliché-like,of course, to
say that the extent of the nuclear-related horrors -- from the A-Bombing of
the Japanese cities to the present and encompassing many countries and
peoples and self-serving rationales over many decades since the 1940s --
will never be fully known. For myself, I'll always remember as a kid in his
mid teens lying in my bed at Flagstaff and, in the pre-dawn period,
occasionally seeing the far northwestern horizon light up as a result of
nuclear testing at Desert Rock, Nevada. As the years passed and I was
occasionally home from Wherever, I saw this time and again from that window.
What none of us really knew in that early period was that Fallout was
spreading over a vast area, pervasively sowing the seeds of profound
sickness and usually death over thousands of miles. [Flagstaff was
essentially protected from this by its somewhat further-down location and by
wind currents in and around the Grand Canyon and by the huge San Francisco
mountains immediately to the north of town.] We began personally to get some
handle on the enveloping tragedy when it was revealed that, in one of the
northern-most communities in our vast Coconino County, the small Mormon town
of Fredonia, the leukemia rate had spiked to 19 times the national average.
Those situations were legion up in that general region -- affecting, in
addition to much of Northern Arizona and parts of Nevada, large portions of
Utah -- even southern Idaho, Wyoming and beyond. I can cite several
childhood acquaintances of mine who, working in rural Nevada in the late
'50s and into the '60s and downwind from Desert Rock, died as young people
from "mysterious" cancers.
The other dimension of this, of course, involves uranium mining, milling and
refining which began in the late '40s and has continued, although since the
'80s, it's been much reduced via widespread protests over many years -- for
the present. This, quietly sowing its ultimately lethal seeds, produced open
sickness and death in large portions of the vast Navajo Nation and Laguna
Pueblo from the late '60s to this very moment. And again, I personally know
of many Navajo and some Laguna people who have either already died or who
presently face imminent death. At this point, the mortality and profound
illness tally runs, even by conservative estimates, into the many thousands
-- and also involves non-Indians living in non-reservation border areas.
Notwithstanding, a number of uranium companies want to "start-up" yet again
but the Navajo Nation has formally prohibited any uranium production of any
kind on its lands. Battles are also underway in Canada around this issue. I
was recently sent a packet of slick-words-on-slick-paper "company
material" from Labrador where Natives are under heavy economic pressure to
approve and participate in a large-scale uranium scheme. But many are not
approving and many are organizing protest campaigns.
Personally, I have had a good deal to do with the uranium issue --
publishing my first piece on it when I was 23. A very, very small sampling
can be found at this link:
I've written and published
a lot of other stuff on the matter. A long piece of mine went out to the
world in five languages via New Perspectives -- published by the World Peace
Council. [The languages were English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish.] That was out of Helsinki, which carries us back to our good friend, Jyri, whose comments and accompanying link are well worth a good hard look.
Hunter [Hunter Bear]
Hope you're well and battling.
Browsing a collection of old news photos from my old home town Brisbane in
Queensland, Australia, I came across this one:
tested nuclear devices at the Woomera (Aboriginal word for spear-thrower)
rocket range in the deserts of South Australia in the 1950s. Some of the
uranium needed at Woomera came from Queensland, and it seems regular
passenger flights (note seats visible through the open door) were used for
transport. Fallout from the tests has been quite convincingly claimed to
have caused outbreaks of cancer. God knows what else went on, and what still
goes on all over the place.
Personally I'm sometimes worried about the day after the Chernobyl disaster
when I was caught in a downpour out in the woods near Helsinki. The wind was
from the southeast, the general direction of South Russia and the Ukraine.
An alternative caption for the picture could be the Australian expression
"No worries, she'll be right..." which is said to sometimes strike fear in
the hearts of management and labour alike.
NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR
JANUARY 29 2009:
NUCLEAR TESTING / NUCLEAR HORROR 
People who are, themselves, the living victims of
nuclear fall-out and/or uranium contamination / poisoning obviously aren't
going to give their medical situation and very likely that of others
similarly situated anything except -- except -- top priority in their
thinking and general concern.
But people who have even seen -- seen -- the effects of this Horror complex
aren't able to ignore any of it. It's the sort of thing that deeply engraves
itself at the fore of one's mind -- as at least one of several top and
perennial dimensions of concern.
I've received several good and thoughtful letters in response to the Nuclear
Testing / Nuclear Horror piece I posted yesterday . Here is one from a well
established and experienced educator and a fine social worker -- and an
all-around good cause person:
Nearly thirty years ago I visited a town in Southwestern Utah that was
virtually dying from cancer as a result of exposure to nuclear fallout. What
a sad story.
The fallout also traveled far and wide on the prevailing winds and rained
down upon pockets of grazing dairy cattle throughout the US. The cattle who
ate the contaminated grass provided radioactive milk to the area's children,
many of whom later developed cancer. Above ground nuclear testing leaves a
terrible legacy. . .
It's probably all too easy for many Others, sensitive to social justice
concerns, to assume that all of this -- a devastated town in Utah or a dying
Navajo in the Southwest -- simply exemplify just one more example among a
great many of the conscienceless behaviorisms of our current economic system
and its political and military allies. And also that, whatever is happening
to whoever, is simply far and away.
And maybe even long ago.
Well, we do indeed have a very full table of examples typifying social
injustice these days -- cruel stuff, brutal, almost unbelievably bloody.
And usually intricately rationalized in smooth and gracious verbiage -- via
very deadly premises indeed.
The nuclear/uranium tragedy isn't far away at all and it's Now. Nothing, of
course, is "far away" in our world these days. And people in many settings
are continuing to sicken and die -- and so is other life of all kinds -- in
the context of poisoned air and water and the very earth itself.
Many humans -- victims and discerning people of conscience -- are certainly
grappling with the illness and death of This; and in some many areas --
especially in America north of Mexico -- are battling over such questions as
how-to and where regarding dangerously contaminated waste disposal stemming
from the disastrous ventures of the past decades.
And while this is all going on, many new and intensive efforts are quietly
underway by the "energy corporations" to resume production of uranium --
"the yellow rock that kills".
And even many of the politicians in many places considered "better"
[comparatively speaking] remain entranced by the shiny and deadly mirage of
"responsible" nuclear power.
The late radical poet, John Beecher, someone I met in my mid-twenties in
Arizona whilst I and others were picketing, became a life long friend. [His
good spouse, Barbara, still working for justice, continues to be a very
kindred spirit.] Beecher, probably like myself [and many other activists],
was not especially ideological in the specifics -- certainly not a theorist
-- but he was a very ecumenical radical activist in his own way, and
certainly someone who could spot injustice as fast as a good forest fire
lookout can spot a "smoke." And he consistently acted -- acted -- on that
which he saw. When he passed on, I wrote a substantial personal piece about
John Beecher, "The Next Great Step of the Way: The Grassroots Poetry of John
Beecher." [ It was initially published in March 1981.] I posted on this
before, some years ago, and in any event, my thing can be seen at
Beecher, no stranger to the Southwest and environs, was very quick indeed to
spot the deadly effects of nuclear fall-out. And my retrospective piece on
him concludes thusly:
"Not long ago I read one of Beecher's poems to a class of mine, Navajo
college students. To the northwest of our reservation, up in Utah and
Nevada especially, white people are dying as a result of the illness
produced by nuclear testing in the '50s and early '60s. On the vast Navajo
reservation itself, predatory uranium mining companies have desecrated the
earth and set forth a poisonous legacy of radioactivity that has already led
to many Indian bones under the turquoise sky. The class grew silent as I
read "Moloch," written 20 years before:
"Butch Bardoli was just a ranch kid
a tow-head like yours or mine at seven
his pockets full of marbles
pieces of string
a tiny car or plane maybe
he'd got with a box top
Nothing extra about Butch
just the usual sort of small boy
and when the big cloud mushroomed
high into the cobalt desert sky
over the Reveille mountains to the south
he stood in the yard with the six other children
who went to the Twin Springs school
and watched with scared eyes
Now Butch Bardoli is dead of leukemia
or cancer of the bloodstream
It was just his hard luck to be born
there in that almost empty part of Nevada
where mountains thirty miles away
seem close enough to touch
and the dust devils whirl
on long hot summer days
As a great man said
"You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs"
a man named Nikolai Lenin
not George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or
but we seem to have come over to his way of thinking
it does make a difference though
when it's an egg from your own nest
a beloved son perhaps
that gets broken for the omelet
Somewhere on the desert
a new cross stands
above a very short mound
and still the poisonous mushrooms climb the cobalt sky
over the Reveille range
But Butch Bardoli
sleeps on "
The Navajo class continued its silence for a time after I finished. Then a
young woman spoke. "He must have been a holy man," she said, "to have seen
Indeed he was. John Beecher was a very holy man.
[Initially published in REPORT TO THE STOCKHOLDERS AND OTHER POEMS. John
Beecher had inscribed that copy to our growing family: "For the Salters -
John, Eldri and Maria in friendship and admiration - John Beecher - June 19,
1962." The poem is included in COLLECTED POEMS, 1924-1974]
In the Mountains of Eastern Idaho
Nialetch / Onen
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR] Mi'kmaq
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
PETER MACDONALD AND THE NAVAJO [DINE'] NATION
[HUNTER GRAY 8/27/01]
This is with regard to the letter, by a visiting
Scot, in the [Glasgow]
Herald on the Native American situation in the United States -- posted on
this List by Michael Keaney.
The letter, regarding the deplorable condition of Native people in the
United States, with a focus on the sins of Federal Indian policy, the Pine
Ridge tragedy and general border-town racism, etc., is certainly on
target -- with one big exception.
The writer gives the explicit impression that Peter MacDonald, former Navajo
Nation chairman, was framed-up and jailed in a Goldwater plot stemming from
MacDonald's defense of Navajo oil and mineral and related resources.
The reverse is the case.
MacDonald, no Braveheart, spent his long and pervasively corrupt career
selling out Navajo oil and mineral and other resources [and, in that sense,
very much the Dine' people] to some of the biggest corporations in the
world. He was, by far and away, the most consistent of the
Republican-supporting Indian leaders of his period -- and a very strong
Reagan and Goldwater man. Any stress with Goldwater would have stemmed only
from Goldwater's support of the Hopi elected tribal council -- strongly
influenced by Salt Lake City and corporate mineral interests -- in the very
long standing Joint Use Area land dispute between the Hopi and the Navajo
in the Big Mountain area. In this complex matter, traditionalists in both
camps -- i.e., the traditional Hopi council and Navajo religious leaders --
have long sought common ground and mutually satisfactory and peaceful
Peter MacDonald formed Navajo OEO in 1965 and used patronage and contacts
made through it to build his electoral political machine -- in the context
of a reservation bigger than the state of West Virginia. At that time
especially, most Navajo did not vote in tribal elections. He became
chairman in 1971 and served until 1982, serving another stint in 1987-1989.
In 1989, he was suspended by the Navajo Tribal Council because of
allegations that he had been deeply involved in bribery stemming from the
the Navajo purchase of the Big Boquillas Ranch in Northwestern Arizona.
Soon after that, several hundred MacDonald supporters made a violent and
abortive effort to overthrow the Navajo tribal government. The effort
failed and, in 1990, MacDonald was charged with bribery in tribal court --
later other Federal offenses were added -- and he served a number of years
in prison. He was pardoned by Bill Clinton in January, 2001.
During the earlier part of his era, increased Federal funding in the general
sense brought some positive things to the Navajo nation. MacDonald, it is
true, fought for a much bigger share of corporate lease royalties vis-a-vis
Navajo oil and mineral and related resources in a long-standing
open-theft-complex where corporate interests, with BIA support, had long
gouged the Navajo and other tribes flagrantly. And he played a major role
in the formation of the Council of Energy Resources Tribes [CERT] to
facilitate this bigger cut of the pie, both in Navajo country and for 20 or
so other tribes. But the MacDonald administration [a classic Richard
Daley-type operation in many, many very sad respects] was swollen with
bureaucracy and blatant corruption and strong-arm tactics. Most of that
stemmed from the multi-faceted MacDonald et al. rip-offs in the broad
context of Navajo oil and mineral and related resources; as well, of
course, as the substantial skimming off from general Federal funding in
other dimensions of the Navajo world.
And Peter MacDonald also allowed the uranium corporations to do essentially
anything they wished in the Navajo Nation -- regardless of the increasingly
obvious lethal effects on miners, community people, land and livestock, air
A couple of personal observations:
One of my Native father's finest art students at Arizona State College,
Flagstaff [now Northern Arizona University] -- and one of our oldest family
friends -- was the late Ned A. Hatathli [or Hatathali] who was the prime
founder of Navajo Community College [now Dine' College] at the end of the
1960s. This was the first of the tribally-controlled colleges in the United
States -- initially at Many Farms and then located at remote Tsaile Lake,
with a branch campus at Shiprock. Ned envisioned an academically first-rate
bi-cultural institution which, as free as possible from both tribal
politics and Federal pressures, would serve the Dine' Nation and its people.
Neither the MacDonald tribal administration nor the Feds could ever respect
this and Ned was put under hideous pressures. In October 1972, my father
in Flag called me in Chicago and told me that our close friend, this
eminently honourable and visionary trail-blazer, had abruptly
and unexpectedly died tragically that early morning at his home on campus. The college then went
through many internal convulsions but, thanks to dedicated faculty, staff,
students and the Navajo people, survived and has continued to grow.
MacDonald's loyalties were thin in all directions. When a Yorkshire
Toots," that he and his wife had purchased in Great Britain got on
MacDonald's nerves with its admittedly very strange yelp/cry, MacDonald
hurriedly dumped the poor little creature on a distant relative at the
college. That person in turned gave Toots to someone else and eventually
the Yorky wound up ostensibly at the Dean's house, close to our's; and
frequently coming into our kitchen to huddle under the table, surrounded by
our hostile cats and our one dog -- but very much aware that our family
always had handouts for discarded little strays.
Once, in 1980, during the several years period that I taught sociology and
criminal justice at Navajo Community College, word came to the College that
"the Chairman" and his entourage were would be holding a meeting at the
Cultural Center -- the primary headquarters building -- at the College.
Everyone -- the entire administration, faculty, the traditional medicine
college security staff, et al. -- had to vacate the Center and its
parking-lot as well. I moved my yellow Chevrolet pickup to a nearby point
and , leaning against it, awaited the arrival of The Great Man.
This was preceded by two or three tribal police helicopters which flew over
the general college area for about ten minutes. Then came a long line of
vehicles and, as they drew closer, now "coming around the bend" on campus,
one could see five tribal police vehicles leading three Lincoln
Continentals and these, in turn, were followed by five more tribal police
cars. The initial contingent of tribal police moved quickly into the
parking lot and immediately scattered to security positions. The Lincoln
Continentals then moved into the lot and parked. The rear contingent of
police vehicles parked, scattering their people into additional security
posts. Then, several well dressed body-guards got out of two of the
Lincolns and surrounded the third. The passenger door of that one opened
and, there he was! -- The Chairman -- Peter MacDonald. A short man,
dressed in an expensive suit, he scurried, head down, quickly into the
Cultural Center -- accompanied by personal bodyguards and followed by tribal
I remembered the comment made by a Massachusetts friend of mine, Mrs Grace
Mitchell, mother of Attorney F. Lee Bailey. She had accompanied her son to
the Navajo capital of Window Rock to help MacDonald prepare his [successful]
defense in an early case. Grace Mitchell was surprised to note a huge
personal home behind walls and barbed-wire and a bevy of armed guards. "I
hadn't seen anything like that," she remarked to me, "since Lee and I went
At the beginning of the 1950s, before I went in the Army, the old Navajo
chairman was Sam Ahkeah -- a committed and hard-fighting servant of his
people in an increasingly reactionary atmosphere [Red Scare, Taft-Hartley,
etc] where every effort was being made to undo the substantial reforms of
the Roosevelt period and, in the Native context, those generally very
meaningful and positive pro-Indian policies initiated by the excellent
Indian Commissioner of the FDR period, John Collier.
Sam Ahkeah, Chairman of the Dine' Nation, dressed in Levis and with a an old
Stetson, drove a battered pickup. There were no police escorts or body
guards. He often drove from the Navajo capital of Window Rock more than 200
miles to Flagstaff to see how Navajo people were getting on in that tough
setting -- and to visit the Navajo workers employed at the Navajo Ordnance
Depot [NOD], a government munitions installation at Bellemont, 12 miles west
of Flagstaff on Highway 66.
When he came to Flag and the NOD, he sometimes stayed at our house on the
northern edge of Flagstaff. He was inclined, as was my father, to rise
about 3 a.m. every morning -- and I can well remember them in the kitchen
together, drinking strong black coffee, smoking Bull Durham, and talking
Indian policy. Once, when his pickup broke down at Flagstaff, and he had an
important tribal council meeting pending, my father drove Sam Ahkeah to
Sam Ahkeah was a man who epitomized the Native ideal of the good leader: the
person who serves the people rather than serving one's self.
Much has now changed at Window Rock, as it has everywhere. In the case of
the Navajo, as with all of the other Native tribal nations and peoples in
the 'States and Canada, the enemies -- massive corporations, hostile Federal
and state and provincial governments, racism and ethnocentrism, and much
more -- remain the same. And the Navajo -- and all of the other tribal
nations as well -- are very much on guard, committed, still-fighting to
maintain land and resources, still fighting for self-determination and
sovereignty. It's a fight that goes on, always, and always will. The
MacDonalds, made and nurtured by the Anglo world, are nothing more in this
vast and far-reaching context, than a passing season. The land and the
people remain, always have, and always will.