Gallup Independent

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

As protesters march, uranium opponent addresses council

By Kathy Helms
Diné Bureau

WINDOW ROCK- As Navajo Nation Council's Winter Session got under way, members of the Eastern Navajo Allottee Association marched outside the chambers in protest.

They were protesting legislation which would enact the Din Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005 and ban further uranium mining from Navajoland.

Members of the allottee group signed lease agreements with Hydro Resources Inc. of Texas, which hopes to begin in-situ leach mining of uranium in Church Rock within two years. The Navajo allottees feel they should have control over their land and be able to develop it to their economic advantage. They believe their concerns are being ignored by council.

Phil Harrison of the Navajo Uranium Radiation Victims Committee addressed Navajo Nation Council members Monday regarding the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).

Harrison's group is seeking changes in the federal law which was designed to compensate victims of uranium-related illnesses and persons living downwind of the government's above-ground nuclear tests who were "involuntarily subjected to increased risk of injury and disease to serve the national security interests of the United States."

Harrison, whose group supports the ban on uranium mining, wrapped up the first day of the session with a report to delegates on the inadequacy of RECA and the need for further reform. He spoke while the protestors were outside the council chambers.

The Navajo Uranium Radiation Victims Committee, a grass-roots organization formed by Harrison, has worked on behalf of thousands of Navajo uranium workers since 1970 to seek reparation and restitution for injuries resulting from uranium mining.

The committee assisted and provided personal testimonies which were used to pave the way for enactment of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) of 1990, and Harrison was among those providing testimony at a congressional field hearing on the first round of RECA amendments conducted in Shiprock in 1993.

Since that time, many uranium workers have encountered the stringent criteria required by Department of Justice to obtain benefits under RECA, he said. "Although several hundred Navajo people have received compensation through RECA, there are many denials and encountered difficulties pursuing claims."

In 1994, Harrison's committee initiated an effort to change the law and on Aug. 5, 1999, Sen. Orin Hatch of Utah introduced RECA Amendment 2000, which was signed into law in July 2000. Since its enactment, a comprehensive report has not been made to the Navajo Nation Council, Harrison said.

The RECA amendment was intended to streamline the application-for-compensation process by establishing regulations and procedures to resolve claims "in a reliable, objective and non-adversarial manner."

But, Harrison commented, "We feel that this has not been accomplished in regard to the Navajo population." Many of the denied claims are sent to U.S. District Court for appeals, where they stagnate for years, he said.

"Many Navajo uranium workers who do not qualify due to low work levels or missing Social Security records and yet have lung disease will never be compensated," he said. "Despite the amendments, Navajo claimants are being compensated disproportionately."

Harrison spoke of a "window of opportunity" to return to Washington to lobby for issues not amended previously, and said the Navajo people are asking the Nation to pursue a second round of RECA reform which will afford "fair and just compensation for all Navajo uranium workers."

At his office in Shiprock, Harrison said, "every day we have people coming in with illness. We have cancer, we have birth defects, we have clusters of cancer at Coalmine Mesa. We need to do something for our people. I think this is long overdue."