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USGS and Havasupai Tribe issue report on uranium mining

 Members of the Havasupai Tribe, including a young child, dance in a circle wearing brightly colored clothing.
Melissa Sevigny
Members of the Havasupai Tribe performed the Ram Dance at a ceremony honoring the renaming of Havasupai Gardens on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Havasupai Tribe identifies Tribal concerns about exposure to uranium mining in the Grand Canyon watershed.

The authors of the report say that previous work on the potential risks of uranium mining did not account for Tribal perspectives. The Havasupai collaborated with the USGS to identify possible exposure pathways that are unique to Tribal culture.

Some examples are the ceremonial burning of sagebrush and juniper, the preparation of deer hides, or face and body painting with materials gathered near a uranium mine.

This new framework blends scientific risk analysis with the Havasupai ceremonial wheel, which identifies food, environment, ceremony, and belief systems as four foundational aspects of Havasupai culture. The report applies the framework to the Pinyon Plain Mine located south of the Grand Canyon near Red Butte, which is a sacred site to Havasupai, Zuni, and Hopi.

The 17-acre mine, owned by Energy Fuels Incorporated, lies within the boundaries of the newly established Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument. New mining claims are not allowed in the monument, but previously existing ones may still be developed.

Energy Fuels maintains its methods are safe and that the land will be fully reclaimed when mining is done.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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