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Nygren signs resolution to urge President Biden to prohibit uranium hauling on Navajo lands

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WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Seven weeks after asking President Biden for his assistance, Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren signed legislation that adds the Navajo Nation Council’s imprimatur to ban the transportation of uranium ore across Navajo lands on April 29.

Joined by Navajo Nation Council Speaker Crystalyne Curley and Delegate Casey Allen Johnson, vice chair of the Resources and Development Committee and sponsor of the legislation, Nygren signed a resolution to ask U.S. President Joe Biden to use executive authority to halt uranium transportation on Navajo land before it is attempted.

Titled CAP-23-24, “An Action Relating to an Emergency; Urgent Request to President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., the White House, Members of Congress, and Relevant Federal Agencies to Halt the Transportation of Uranium Through Navajo Nation Lands,” the resolution supports Nygren’s and Curley’s March 12 request.

“During the Cold War era,” the legislation states, “the demand for uranium surged, prompting extensive mining operations on Navajo lands without adequate environmental safeguards, resulting in lasting devastation to land, water, and public health, including high rates of cancer and other illnesses among Navajo uranium miners and their families.”

In their letter to Biden, Nygren reiterates a concern that has haunted the Navajo Nation for generations.

“The Diné Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005 … was a powerful declaration by the Navajo Nation to prohibit uranium mining and processing on our lands,” Nygren wrote. “This law was our response to the catastrophic harm uranium mining has inflicted upon our people – a legacy of illness, contamination, and environmental degradation that we continue to confront.”

Citing the creation of the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument in August, Nygren said uranium transportation would pose an unacceptable risk to the wellbeing of Navajos and the sanctity of Navajo land.

“Alternative routes exist that can and should be used to avoid crossing Navajo lands,” he wrote. “Mr. President, we urgently request the support of the White House to address this critical issue. We ask you to explore all executive authorities at your disposal to halt the transportation of uranium through our lands.”

Under the Navajo Nation’s 2012 “Radioactive and Related Substances Equipment, Vehicles, Persons and Materials Transportation Act,” it is unlawful to transport uranium within the Navajo Nation. However, a loophole exempting state and federal highways U.S. 89 and U.S. 160 allows for the transportation of uranium.

“We are unwavering in our stance against uranium,” President Nygren said April 29. “This legislation is a product of the dedication of our legislative and executive bodies of government. Today, united, we are sending a powerful message to Washington, D.C.: Halt uranium on Navajo.”

Curley said this is just one step in a broader struggle.

“Our children ride school buses on these routes,” she said. “Our families and visitors travel these roads. There’s a pressing need for further amendments to federal mining laws. Radioactive materials have no place sharing these corridors with our people.”

The legislation states, “The transportation of uranium ore across Navajo Nation lands represents a disregard for Navajo Nation law, threatens its territorial integrity and is a threat to the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation. The need to halt plans to transport uranium across Navajo Nation lands is a pressing public need which requires final action by the Navajo Nation Council.”

Johnson cited the April 26 BNSF Railroad train derailment on the Arizona/New Mexico border  to draw a parallel to potential risks.

“If it can happen to a train, it can happen to a semi or diesel truck,” he said. “Safeguarding our people is our inherent right. The transportation of uranium across our lands fundamentally questions our sovereignty. We should not be compelled to compromise our sovereignty.”

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