500 Unheard Legacies
by Rosalba Breazeale & Jessica Begay
500 Unheard Legacies utilizes video, sound and still image to visualize the continuous impact of Uranium mining on U.S. tribal lands. Site specific recordings narrate the perspective of the land and the impacted communities.
Thousands of abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) exist in the western United States, and over 500 are located on U.S. tribal lands. Due to improper remediation (an EPA-led tactic to decontaminate an area affected by environmental incidents and disasters), windblown dusts generated from AUMs are of significant community concern. Tribal communities in close proximity are subject to potential exposure to residual mining waste through ingestion and inhalation, thereby contributing to ongoing health disparities. Health disparities include: cancer of the bone or liver, lung cancer, kidney damage, and increased risk of metabolic and cardiopulmonary disorders.
The Jackpile mine site (active: 1952-1982) is located in the heart of Pueblo of Laguna, New Mexico where generations of families (over 4000 people) call home. “Out of a total of 7,868 leased acres, 2,656 acres were disturbed by mining. This disturbance originally included three open pits, 32 waste dumps and 23 protore (sub-grade ore) stockpiles, four topsoil stockpiles and 66 acres of buildings and roads,” where over 400 million tons of rock were removed and transported to Santa Fe, NM to complete the milling process (from epa.gov). To the surrounding Indigenous families, more than rocks were taken; the living entity that provided them life and protection was violated and never has been fully restored. Today, many still rely on the traditional way of life, relying on the land and its crop yield and livestock health for food, as well as the yearly rain- and snowfall for water. However, breaches (open cracks/cave-ins) of the previously “remediated” sections result in the release of contaminants to plant, soil, and water sources. The current data collected has resulted in the Jackpile Mine being listed on the National Priority List for resolution, giving hope for a cleaner and safer future.