By James Santiago Romero
Radioactivity from uranium mines left over from World War Two and the Cold War is poisoning the Navajo nation. To mend the past, heal the land, and spur economic development, we are donating honeybee hives, pollinator gardens, and medicinal mushrooms.
A trip to Navajo Land in 2014 opened my eyes to the environmental devastation wrought by uranium mining. There are 2,000 sites left over that still leak significant amounts of radioactivity into Navajo communities. I met with Navajo who have worked in the mines for decades and suffer from cancer, leukemia, and Lymphomas.
Their livestock and crops have also been damaged, threatening their traditional methods of livelihood.
The elders are finally getting medical attention, and the mines are getting capped, but the land itself is devastated and the local economies are stagnant. The mines, some which are enormous pits and others that are ten-foot holes in the ground, still emit radiation 10-20 times higher than the background level. I met Navajos who used them for storage, livestock sheds and even camping, not knowing they were dangerous. Mines are oftentimes situated on rivers so the radioactivity flows down to Santa Fe, Phoenix, and into the groundwater that the Front Range uses for drinking water. It’s not just a Navajo problem, it’s everyone’s problem.
Starting in 1941, permits were given to the Kerr-McGee company to mine for low-grade uranium on Navajo Land using Navajo workers who were paid a dollar an hour. Although high-grade uranium was available from the Belgium Congo, the US government wanted a domestic supply for The Manhattan Project, a research and development project that produced the first atomic bombs during World War II. Even if that meant sending Navajo men into poorly-ventilated mines to chip away at radioactive rock with picks and shovels and no warning about the dangers involved in inhaling the dust for up to 16 hours a day.
Recently, the Navajo received a settlement with the mining companies to cap the mines and treat medical issues related to the radiation, but little is slated to heal the land itself or help the Navajo to make a living.
Natural beekeeping is a perfect solution for environmental rejuvenation and income generation for the Navajo and it will help save the bees too.
I became a natural beekeeper several years ago when a mentor gave me my first hive. And I fell in love with the bees. When I discovered that one in three hives die each year from Colony Collapse Disorder I knew I had to do something. I took a course with legendary beekeeper, Les Crowder, and worked up to a dozen hives in my backyard in Santa Fe.
In natural beekeeping we don’t kill the queen every year to increase productivity like commercial beekeepers do. We don’t treat the hives with miticides or pesticides, nor feed the bees sugar water. Instead, we support the hive and assist it in being as healthy and vital as possible.
Some Navajo and Anglo friends of mine decided to do something to help the Navajo community recover from this environmental disaster and develop their local economies. That’s how the Navajo Bee Project was created. Natural beekeeping is a perfect fit with Navajo culture.
Some of the Navajo Bee Project’s goals are to:
- Donate at least 25 honeybee hives to pollinate plants and provide honey and beeswax to create income for Navajo beekeepers.
- Create 10 000 native bee nests to encourage the more than 4,000 types of solitary bees to thrive and pollinate a variety of plants, trees, and fruits.
- Place bat houses to encourage bats to live on the lands to provide natural pest control and handle the pollinators’ night shift.
- Plant native grasses, flowers and shrubs to help the soil revive and provide stability from flash floods as well as filter rain for the ground water.
- Create pollinator and bee gardens full of flowers, grasses and shrubs that bees, wasps, moths, hummingbirds, and other pollinators love.
- Provide mushroom inoculation on land around the worse fifty mines based on Paul Stamet’s research to help increase the rate of detoxification by 10,000 fold.
- Invite you to visit Navajo Land and see for yourself the awesome work your donation will make possible. Participate in dedication and celebration ceremonies for the beehives and gardens and befriend Navajo who rarely leave Navajo Land or meet Anglos.
We need help. Navajo Land is huge, encompassing a large part of Arizona and New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Utah. Summer on Navajo Land is short, so we are trying to get the word out about our fundraiser as quickly as possibly. Please share our Indiegogo campaign with your social networks and donate what feels right. For only $10 you can enter a drawing to visit Navajo Land and meet the Naat’áanii, elders and leaders of the Navajo community.
“Like” our Facebook page and stay up to date with the campaign:
Santiago Romero was born at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital and grew up in the heart of Los Angeles, but visited New Mexico every summer. His father mentored with renowned Native American artist, sculptor, and author Roxanne Swentzell. Working around Roxanne’s farm and helping with her creative projects was his doorway to sculpture. He developed a passion for Native American rights and environmental protection. He has an environmental science degree from Darmouth with a minor in studio art.
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