Protestors oppose uranium minding on Mt. Taylor

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

ALBUQUERQUE, May 16, 2013

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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

Activist Cooper Curley from Chichiltah N.M., holds up a sign for passing vehicles to read Friday in Albuquerque.

AIn an effort to oppose uranium mining from occurring at the base of Mt. Taylor, protesters and environmentalists held poster signs last Friday for Albuquerque commuters to see that read "Protect Mt. Taylor," "Stop contaminating indigenous lands" and "Uranium harms communities."

Staked out near the office of the Cibola National Forest and Grasslands, at the intersection of Osuna Road and Chappell Road, the group got the attention of motorists driving this route during the rush hour traffic as they honked their horns in support of the anti-uranium mining message.

One of those protesters that led the effort was Cooper Curley, 22, of Chilchiltah, N.M.

Curley, who is also the CEO of Southwest Indigenous Uranium Forum, said the proposed Roca Honda Project is located on sacred land and that it's the first conventional mine to possibly reemerge in New Mexico in more than 30 years.

"This uranium mine, which is the first one to be actually brought to New Mexico, when Obama banned uranium mining, a lot of these uranium mines are starting to pop up under real fast circumstances and processes," Curley said. "This Roca Honda Mine has been under wraps when it comes to Native communities."

Curley added that during a public hearing held last month in Gallup about the project, he tried asking who was buying the uranium, but received no answer. He was hoping he would get answers from the U.S. Forest Service by protesting.

What he does know so far, however, is that the Roca Honda Mine Project is a proposal of Roca Honda Resources. In October 2009, Roca Honda Resources, a joint venture between Canadian-based Strathmore Minerals Corp. and Japanese-based Sumitio Corp., submitted a plan of operation to the Cibola National Forest to develop and conduct underground uranium mining on Jesus Mesa in the Mt. Taylor Ranger District.

Roca Honda Resources, which plans to mine uranium ore for nine years and generate $713 million in cash flow, comes more than 30 years after uranium mining occurred in the Grants Mineral Belt area for nuclear weapons during the Cold War Era.

Another protester, or indigenous rights activist, was Sixtus Dominguez, and his six-year-old son. Both held signs in Keresan, "Stop the re-invasion of Kaweshtima Undrip," which refers to indigenous people pushing forward with their traditional ways by understanding the correct history of territory and relationship to the earth, Dominguez said. Kaweshtima is a Keresan word for Mt. Taylor, or Ts'oodzil in Navajo.

Domingez, Raramuri/Mescalero Apache, said he is submitting a paper he co-authored with tribal classmates from the University of New Mexico for his Research Methods in Native American Context class as part of his public comments on the Draft EIS for the uranium mine.

In his paper, he talks about how Mt. Taylor is no longer designated a Traditional Cultural Property, and how remediation still needs to occur from past uranium practices.

Other indigenous rights groups at the protest included members of Indigenous Action Media and the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment, who has urged the Forest Service to deny Roca Honda's plan of operations, choose the "No Action" alternative for the Draft EIS and reissue a new Draft EIS because the current one is inadequate.

Meanwhile, as the protestors and environmentalists were picketing the U.S. Forest Service for releasing the Draft EIS last month on the Roca Honda Mine, Diana Tafoya, project manager for the Cibola National Forest, sat down with the Navajo Times for an interview on the project.

Tafoya clarified that it's not the Forest Service's idea to grant the uranium mine proposal. The mining companies have the right to minerals, such as uranium ore, under the General Mining Law of 1872.

The mining law requires the Forest Service to respond to these proposals, and allow reasonable access to the mineral resource, while protecting surface resources, Tafoya said.

"We can't say no and we can't disregard and not act on their proposal," Tafoya said. "What we have to do is an environmental evaluation and in this case we're doing an environmental impact statement ... and from there evaluate their plan of operation."

According to the Draft EIS, there are three alternatives the Forest Service will need to consider when it publishes the Final EIS later this fall. One alternative is taking no action on the project, which environmental groups prefer, and also means that this alternative could be used as baseline and be compared to the effects of the other alternatives.

The second alternative is to allow Roca Honda Resources to mine on territory called Section 10, building two shafts to access the ore. The third alternative would allow for mining to occur with one shaft, but on property called Section 16.

Fact sheets provided by the Forest Service indicate that aquifers, springs and wells and cultural resources considered sacred to the Acoma, Laguna, Zuni, Hopi and Navajo were the greatest concerns.

Tafoya added that it's important for the public to submit comments about the Draft EIS to help determine, for example, the shape and size of the proposed mine to recommendations on how to maintain safety and protect the environment, including water and cultural resources.

The public comment period has been extended another 30 days to mid-June. Comments can be sent various ways, including by email, mail, hand-delivery or fax. Email comments can be sent to, mailed or hand-delivered to Cibola National Forest and Grasslands, 2113 Osuna Rd. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113, or fax at 505-346-3909.