Grand Canyon is the site of a battle over toxic uranium mining. Last year, a company called Energy Fuels Resources was given federal approval to reopen a mine six miles from the Grand Canyon’s popular South Rim entrance. A coalition of Native and environmental groups have protested the decision, saying uranium mining could strain scarce water sources and pose serious health effects. Diné (Navajo) tribal lands are littered with abandoned uranium mines. From 1944 to 1986, 3.9 million tons of uranium ore were chiseled and blasted from the mountains and plains of the region.
More than 1,000 mines have closed, but the mining companies never properly disposed of their radioactive waste piles, leading to a spike in cancer rates and other health ailments. Broadcasting from Flagstaff, Arizona, we speak with Taylor McKinnon, director of energy with Grand Canyon Trust, and Klee Benally, a Diné (Navajo) activist and musician. “It’s really a slow genocide of the people, not just indigenous people of this region, but it’s estimated that there are over 10 million people who are residing within 50 miles of abandoned uranium mines,” Benally says. Benally also describes the struggle to preserve the San Francisco Peaks, an area considered sacred by 13 Native tribes, where the Snowbowl ski resort is using treated sewage water to make snow.