Thursday, March 17, 2011

Radiation Exposure on Native American Lands Was No Accident

There’s a Difference Between Expressing Anger and Providing Information

This blog is a dedicated space for the cause and concerns of Native American health and wellness issues. I believe it is important to keep Native American issues on the front lines with all other issues that warrant attention. I enjoy giving space and voice for those who may not have one yet. This is the purpose supporting this blog.

Several years ago I was very frustrated after learning that a small group of folks was totally unaware of Native American’s overall health problems. I was amazed that they could spend their entire lives in complete unconsciousness about the troubles of Native Americans and their communities. An elder sensing my anger gently explained that these were not bad people who are unworthy of our time and attention – but in great need of it. She treated me as I should have treated this group. It is always sad when you don’t know what you don’t know!

I was in need of her gentle explanation, which lowered my anger level. And when that small group was provided some basic information about Native American issues, they became dedicated supporters of our mission. So, when I see things that have connections with Native Americans and their community’s health and wellness, I have to channel my anger into an informational expression. That elder cautioned me about becoming another angry Indian that people will tune out, like they do when they hear a dog barking in the distance.   

Paying Attention to Japan’s Nuclear Accident

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the recent nuclear accident in Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactors is rated a 6 out of 7 for seriousness. The worst nuclear accident in world history is still Chernobyl with a 7/7. Three Mile Island was 5/7 on the serious scale. These three events, or places, all have one thing in common – they were considered accidents. When a nuclear accident happens, the world carefully watches.

President Obama recently stated that the U.S. will stand by Japan and that they are “…some of our closest friends and allies.” The U.S. has mobilized its resources and within days has sent scientists, military equipment, and other types of aid to that region in order to assist its friends in their time of need – as should be!  When accidents happen in our world America is very generous and the cost to the U.S. treasury is usually not a concern. However, when exposing folks to radiation is not accidental, like on our Native American reservations, the U.S. mobilizes its resources in a different way – they deny the effects of radiation exposure and deflect all responsibilities.

The Most Nuclear Bombed Nation on Our Planet

The Western Shoshone Nation, with lands located in Nevada, has had more nuclear bombs dropped on their lands than any other place on our planet. Some folks may confuse this Native American territory as being the area described as the Nevada Test Site. However, to the Native Americans living there, this is where nuclear bombs have been dropped since 1951. Even though there have never been any agreements between governments and the Western Shoshone Nation, American and British governments have been dropping nuclear bombs on this Nation’s lands for decades.

We all know what happens to people who are exposed to radiation. That’s why folks get freaked  out during nuclear accidents. I would provide links to photos of children who have been exposed to atomic radiation, as they are the most vulnerable. But there’s no need. It is as bad as you could imagine, so I will leave it to that. I just read that a respected news reporter has been exposed to the nuclear toxins after rushing to Japan in order to report on that story. Not many cameras or news reporters around Nevada these days.

Does Obama not “stand with” Native Americans who were/are exposed to radiation? Are the Native Americans being exposed to radiation on a daily basis here in the U.S. not “some of our closet friends and allies?” Now is a good time to turn our attention toward Native Americans who have suffered radiation exposure for over 60 years. Why? While cancer rates have continued to decline for all Americas over the past several decades, for Native Americans, the rates have increase about 10% over that same period of time. Cancer is the second leading cause of death for Native Americans in the U.S. and this group also has the poorest survival rates compared to any other group with cancer. 

Can’t we be Friends?

I am tempted to say all Native American lands have been contaminated. However, it is probably safe to say that most have been. These Sacred lands have disproportionally been targeted for nuclear bombing and storage. President Obama made it clear after the accident in Japan that he is committed to Nuclear power for the U.S. While there are no safe power sources on America’s horizons, I’ll suspect there will be a need to store additional nuclear waste soon. If the past provides any insight for the future, when there is a need to dispose of contaminated materials, Native American lands will certainly be used in an inequitable way.

The U.S. government seems to always stand by its closest foreign friends and allies in their time of need. Any friendship can be measured by its reasonable, shared exchange of positives and negatives. The next time American needs to store atomic radiation let the U.S. government ask its closest foreign friends for some open spaces. Native American lands should be off all lists related to any nuclear sites.  

What’s happening to the Japanese people is tragic and our prayers are with them. I heard a powerful statement indicating "…we are bound together by our common humanity." If that’s true, what’s happening on Native American lands is shameful. Native Americans living on contaminated reservations are not victims of an accident. No, they suffer from a planned purposeful act – and that is inhuman.

Peace and Erin Go Bragh! DAP

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