Defend Black Hills

Photo: Miners’ Canaries Harold One Feather, Charmaine White Face and Leona Morgan spoke before Physicians for Social Responsibility, in Washington, DC, Jan 27, 2016.

WILPF has been involved with the campaign for a moratorium on uranium mining  at least since Ellen Thomas first met Charmaine Whiteface at the Chicago conference in December 2012 on "A mountain of nuclear waste 70 years high" in the Great Lakes area. Unfortunately, although we have indexes of eAlerts and eNews that go back into 2007s, most of the actual documents have by now disappeared.

By March 2013, the second anniversary of the continuing Fukushima disaster, WILPF helped bring Charmaine to join a Buddhist-led walk through New York to Washington DC.  Hattie Nestel and perhaps a half dozen WILPFers also participated. Charmaine enriched the walk along the way, meeting with many city officials and arousing their own concerns about the radioactive particles now spreading throughout the USA from thousands of abandoned mines for which no agency or mining firms took responsibility. WILPFer Pat Birnie helped get Rep. Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus and very familiar with Pat's Tucson Branch, to agree to introduce their bill (which he hasn't done yet!) and Crystal Zevon (Montpelier Branch) began videotaping Charmaine's projects. The best source of information on this remarkable venture with its continuing frustrations and creative responses is Charmaine's own website, defend

Crystal Zevon has posted a video of the visit to DC on YouTube.

The ‘Miners Canaries’ in Washington, DC, Jan. 2016
By Charmaine White Face, Defenders of the  Black Hills

A contingent of Native Americans from the Northern Great Plains and the Southwest United States traveled to Washington, DC, on Jan. 25-29, 2016, as “The Miners' Canaries” to warn the entire country about the peril from “home grown” radioactive pollution.

This “home grown” pollution is the pollution from natural sources like coal and uranium and is polluting both the water and the air. This was the message that was given over and over in presentations to doctors, health researchers, politicians, college students, federal agencies, the public, and the media. 

In the early days of coal mining in England, the miners would take small birds (yellow canaries) down into the mines in small cages because the coal emits dangerous gases.  When the birds passed out or died, the miners knew they had to leave the coal mine otherwise they would die as well from breathing in the invisible gases.

Native American people from the Sioux, Navajo, and Pueblo nations, including others, are now the “miner's canary” for the whole country due to home grown radioactive pollution.  Native American people have been on the front lines of receiving radioactive pollution from uranium mining, and the Four Corners area in the Southwest along with the 1868 Treaty Territory in the Northern Great Plains were designated “National Sacrifice Areas” in the Nixon administration in the early 1970s.  This effort was aimed at the two largest Native American nations:  the Navajo and the Sioux.  For both of these nations, these are considered acts of genocide, or chemical warfare, which is continuing to today.

From studies by the Indian Health Service, the Native American people of the Northern Great Plains have the highest rate of cancer in the country.  Not only are the Sioux people subjected to radioactive pollution from more than 2,000 abandoned uranium mines but also from some of the largest, open-pit, coal mines in the country, coal that is laced with radioactive particles.  However, the US Environmental Protection Agency does not monitor or regulate radioactive particles in coal dust.   In addition, the coal is burned in many coal-fired power plants in Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota.  The smoke contains radioactive particles.  Again, the US Environmental Protection Agency does not monitor or regulate radioactive particles in coal smoke.

In the fall of 2015, the EPA finally began regulating and monitoring coal ash; this is the portion left after the coal has been mined and burned.  EPA finally decided that there were radioactive particles in coal ash.  However, by not starting at the beginning with the coal mining, there needs to be an amendment to the Clean Air Act that prohibits radioactive particles being released in coal dust and coal smoke.  The coal is shipped by train to both East and West Coasts, so it is not just the Northern Great Plains that is being affected.  Millions of people on both coasts are breathing in radioactive particles from coal smoke.  The biggest coal fired power plant in the country is in Georgia and gets its coal from Wyoming. No matter which way the winds blow, millions of people will be breathing in radioactive particles from this one power plant.  

The presentations in DC then talked about water.  It was amazing that the Flint, MI, water problems were also receiving media attention at the same time.  Water in Native American communities in both the Southwest and the Northern Great Plains has been contaminated with radioactive pollution for years, but no national media attention has ever been given to this deadly pollution. 

It was also pointed out that the EPA only monitors and regulates a handful of radioactive particles in water and very few, if any, natural radioactive decay products of naturally occurring uranium.  So a municipal water department will say they are within EPA guidelines and it will be true.  But the water is contaminated with many other kinds of radioactive particles that the EPA does NOT monitor or regulate.  This means that the Clean Water Act also needs to be amended to include ALL radioactive particles.

In frustration with the EPA, the group also conducted a protest in front of the EPA office.  They also met with many officials from the EPA again bringing this important information to the EPA's attention. 

The national campaign, Clean Up the Mines, which advocates for the cleanup of the 15,000 plus abandoned uranium mines in the United States, was also part of the delegation. The entire group is hopeful that the passage of the Uranium Exploration and Mining Accountability Act, aimed at cleaning up all the abandoned uranium mines, will help not just their own communities and nations but also help all the people of the United States who are constantly being exposed to radioactive pollution without their knowledge.

Please join the efforts to stop “home grown radioactive pollution” from continuing to affect the United States.  Amendments to the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts need to be written, and passed by the Congress.  The Uranium Exploration and Mining Accountability Act is already written but needs to be introduced and passed.  For more information contact Charmaine White Face at



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