This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
While the state of Utah decides whether to renew the White Mesa uranium mill's operating permit, I sit in my home on our reservation in White Mesa, just five miles from the White Mesa uranium mill and watch my children and young niece playing with dogs, cats and balls. I think of Chief Sitting Bull's counsel: "Let us put our heads together and see what life we will make for our children."
Utah regulators must think about the children of White Mesa before they volunteer to use the White Mesa Mill as the permanent disposal site for waste so toxic and radioactive that no other place in North America will accept it.
Like many White Mesa Ute tribal members, I've lived in White Mesa for 42 years, since I was born in April 1973. I live with my mom, Thelma Whiskers, and my four children. My mom has lived in White Mesa her whole life, too, and my children all grew up in White Mesa. My people have lived in or near White Mesa for hundreds of years, and I expect most of my family, my children, my grandchildren, will stay here in our homelands. This is our home and the home of our ancestors – we are the caretakers of this land and the waters beneath it.
But the last two generations of Utes in White Mesa have lived with the knowledge that a uranium mill is contaminating our homelands – our pure water, clean air and even the burial grounds of our people – at the expense of our community and way of life. The mill creates dust that blows toward White Mesa and my house. Deer and birds and other animals are poisoned by the mill's ponds.
When the mill's running, it smells like chemicals at my house. We take in radiation from the mill, me, my kids, my mom, my family, my people. The trucks that come and go from the mill are dangerous, especially for my kids and other kids in White Mesa who ride the school bus by the mill. The mill was built on top of burial grounds and contaminates the bones of my ancestors.
In Gore, Okla., an old uranium enrichment site has contaminated the Cherokee Nation. So the Cherokee Tribe and the state of Oklahoma have joined together to fight to have toxic materials removed to protect the groundwater. The people in Oklahoma are thinking of the lives they can make for their children. But now, that material may be coming to White Mesa under another permit application. This toxic and radioactive waste could be buried on top of the only groundwater source available to my tribe. What future will that leave us? What will the state of Utah do to help protect our children in White Mesa?
It is time to think about the children of White Mesa. The state of Utah should deny the permit for the White Mesa uranium mill and let the land, air, water, wildlife, sacred sites and my people recover from the harm that the mill has caused us and still causes us.
Let our children live their lives free of fear of getting cancer from the mill. Let them spend time outside without smelling chemicals from the mill, or breathing dust from the mill. Let them drink our spring water and use spring water for ceremonies without fear of radioactivity. Let them gather herbs as my people have done for ages without having to travel a long way from our home or worrying about whether the herbs are safe to use. Let them hunt on our lands near our home like they always have without worrying whether the meat is safe to eat.
If we slow down, remember our children, and put our heads together, we can find a better future for the children of White Mesa and all of southeastern Utah.
Yolanda Badback is a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. She lives in White Mesa, Utah, with her family.