Navajo Nation Members Warned Not To Waive Rights On Gold King Mine Spill

Navajo Nation Speaker LoRenzo Bates (right) meeting with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on Aug. 13 regarding the contamination caused by a dam break at Gold King Mine.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is offering immediate reimbursements for damages from the Gold King Mine water contamination in exchange for waiving rights for future claims.

On August 11, the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President received report that EPA representatives were in the Utah communities of Aneth and Oljato to encourage Navajo people to agree to the reimbursements.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said, “The Navajo people need to know that they should not file for reimbursement until the injuries and costs related to the contamination have stopped.”

For individuals who sign the claim, they will not be eligible for claims in the future, if additional injuries or damages arise from the long-term effects of contamination.

President Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez met with U.S. EPA administrator Regina McCarthy last week. McCarthy traveled to Shiprock to meet with President Russell Begaye, Vice President Jonathan Nez and Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates.

Related article: Thorpe Throws Support Behind Navajo Nation EPA Fight

“We are concerned about our neighbors and whether this form is being circulated in their communities. This is not just hurting the Navajo people, but all those in the Four Corners region. Think twice before you sign the form,” Vice President Nez said.

Vice President Nez said, “Łeezh łitso, or yellow dirt, is the Navajo word for uranium, the cause of another contamination of Navajo water wells and sources decades ago, from which Navajo residents are still suffering repercussions.”

During the August 10 public information updates in Aneth and Oljato, Navajo citizens voiced their concerns about the water contamination.

This isn’t the first time the government left behind contaminated water sources on the Nation, they said.

Representatives from OPVP, Department of Justice, Navajo EPA, Division of Public Safety and members of the Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management joined Vice President Nez to provide updates.

Attorney General Ethel Branch said the Upper Animas Mine District is a 140-square mile area north of Durango, Colorado with 300 mines, all of them abandoned after being mined from the late 1800s to 1991.

She said the Navajo Nation will pursue legal action and that it is important for residents affected by the contamination to begin documenting their damages.

Four additional contractors were dispatched to support two teams doing sampling at the river. There are also 12 on-scene coordinators, two public information officers, two community health coordinators and 21 employees and contractors from Denver responding to the spill.

At the Oljato meeting at the Monument Valley Visitors Center, Dr. Peterson Zah gave some background on the resiliency of the Navajo people, from the Long Walk to the uranium contamination to the disaster of the San Juan River contamination. “Many years from now, the Navajo people will still be here on our tribal lands,” Zah said in Navajo. “They keep trying to get rid of us, but we’re still here surving.”

Zah said he was no different than all the other Navajo elders in attendance. “What I was looking for (from the EPA) was an apology. We didn’t even get one. I wanted to hear from the U.S. government that they were sorry,” Zah said. “Maybe you should include that in the first part of your presentation at your next meeting.”

President Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez met with U.S. EPA administrator Regina McCarthy last week. McCarthy traveled to Shiprock to meet with President Russell Begaye, Vice President Jonathan Nez and Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates.

Related article:

Did the EPA cause the Colorado mine spill on purpose?

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