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Nuke dump foes celebrate victory

Tuesday, February 20, 2001

NEEDLES - It resembled a homecoming: people gathered to remember a challenge met, a common goal accomplished.

"We won," yelled Phil Klasky of the BANWaste Coalition, pumping a fist in the air, leading the cheer until the dozens around him did the same. "Doesn't it feel great?"

There was even a school bus painted with campaign slogans for 2000 Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader and a solar collector slouching against a front fender.

It was a homecoming with tears and tension as well: tears of fond remembrance for comrades fallen; tension over the future.

The assemblage was gathered to celebrate the defeat of a proposal to bury radioactive waste in a valley Native Americans hold as sacred and environmentalists describe as sensitive. Ward Valley, Calif., about 25 miles west of Needles, would have held wastes generated in Arizona, California, North and South Dakota.

The occasion was the third anniversary of an 113-day occupation of the site. Led by Native Americans, many of them elderly; supported by environmentalists, many of them wealthy and famous; and fueled by media attention focused on the chanting, singing, praying group shivering in the harsh desert winter, the occupation seems so far to have had its desired effect. Further testing of the site's suitability was called off. The proposal has seen no progress since.

Tears came when Betty Barrackman, of the Fort Mojave India Tribe, led singing for Geneva Evanston, one of the ladies leading the occupation; and when Jane Williams accepted a posthumous tribute to her mother, "Stormy' (Norma) Williams, a prominent dump opponent whose ashes rest at the site.

Tension was felt when Vernon Foster, national deputy field director for the American Indian Movement, expressed suspicion of the Bush administration and promised vigilance against a Republican raid on the environment.

Bradley Angle, of Greenaction, claimed a victory for the environment over the interests of the nuclear industry and the government; promising that environmentalists were both watching and prepared for action.

On the day, with dozens of hands of every age and ethnicity joined in a prayer circle on the floor of the mountain-rimmed valley, those concerns seemed very far away. As several speakers repeated: "Our prayers are too powerful. Our medicine is too strong.'

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