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Sat

14

Mar

2009

Alaska Natives protest uranium exploration on Iditarod Trail
Saturday, 14 March 2009 14:14
by Brenda Norrell

A Coalition of Alaskan Indigenous Peoples, Alaskan citizens, students and community organizations are demonstrating support for students protesting Uranium activity in the traditional cultural use areas near the Arctic Inupiat community of Elim. Alaskans from various organizations and communities gathered at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod on March 7th, downtown Anchorage, to demonstrate support for the students and community of Elim. Students in Elim will be protesting uranium as dog mushers race through the Elim checkpoint 123 miles from Nome.

Funny Murray, an Inupiaq Para-professional in Elim, says that the students are leading the effort to raise awareness on the uranium’s destructive impacts to the environment, ecosystem and people. “The Elim Students Against Uranium (ESAU) researched how uranium development can cause damage to the health of the environment, plants, animals and people. They (ESAU) are speaking up for environmental justice here in Elim, the Bering Sea and the Arctic.”

Carl Wassilie, a Yup’ik biologist for Alaska’s Big Village Network, says that any industrial activity like uranium exploration can have profound impacts on the Earth's ecosystem, especially for people who continue to hunt and gather from the land and the water. One of the by-products of pulling uranium out of the Earth is radon gas, which can travel thousands of miles with a slight breeze and ‘falls out’ on the surface of the Earth into water systems, plants and animals. “Basically, people, birds, fish, caribou, moose and all animals living hundreds of miles away can get chronic and long-term exposure to radioactive fall-out that cause an array of health problems and cancer; especially vulnerable are elders, pregnant women and young children.”

“The board and staff of Alaska Community Action on Toxics stand in solidarity with the people of Elim in opposing uranium mining in the region. We believe that uranium mining poses a dire threat to the health and well-being of the community of Elim and other villages in the area. We will continue to work with them to protect the waters, lands, traditional foods, and public health.”

Since 2007, students and elders gathered for days out along the trail in Elim holding signs and giving mushers information about Triex Minerals and Full-Metal Minerals drilling operations. ESAU are leading the effort again, as the Iditarod racers, tourists and volunteers race through the friendly community that has always supported the Iditarod.

Elim IRA Council in partnership with the Center for Water Advocacy (CWA) will conduct research in relation to land, water and sovereignty rights of the Council. The CWA and the Council will work with the federal agencies on a government to-government basis to development regulatory standards and take other actions in protecting human health of the Seward Peninsula ecosystem from the impacts of uranium mining activity.

In the spring of 2008, the Native Village of Elim threatened to sue the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) due to the agencies failure to provide notice or comment to the community. The BLM did not provide any information at all about the Triex and Full Metal Mineral Mining Companies’ (Companies) proposed uranium exploration activities that affected the Elim Village’s reserved lands.

The immediate purpose of this demonstration will be to call attention to the efforts of many Alaskans to prevent further impacts to the human health, subsistence and cultural life ways of the Elim Village from uranium exploration and other mining activity. The broader relevance of this is to insure that the native villages and people, who have lived in the Seward Peninsula since time immemorial, are retained, preserved and protected. The people are signifying that Alaska retains its famous cultural and environmental diversity.
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