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Film brings hope, change to Navajo Nation and beyond



The award-winning expose “The Return of Navajo Boy,” @@http://navajoboy.com/@@a documentary on uranium contamination of the Navajo Nation, was presented at the EMU Thursday night as part of a state-wide tour to broaden public discussion of indigenous rights.

“It made me more aware,” said Joanne Gasca@@http://directory.uoregon.edu/telecom/directory.jsp?p=findpeople%2Ffind_results&m=student&d=person&b=name&s=Joanne+Gasca@@, a University senior studying psychology. “I didn’t know this was going on, the uranium stuff. I had no idea. We have to do something about this.”

The film, produced by Groundswell Educational Films, was an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival and was widely promoted by PBS@@http://navajoboy.com/about-the-documentary/@@. Filmmaker Jeff Spitz and tribal elder and film subject Elsie Mae Begay have traveled nationwide promoting the film’s message, including a visit to Capitol Hill@@http://navajoboy.com/about-the-documentary/@@.

This trip was funded by grants from the Tokyo Foundation and the Oregon Peace Institute. The University event was cosponsored by the Multicultural Center and the Native American Student Union.

Spitz, Begay and Perry Charley@@http://nap.entclub.org/NewFiles/Perry%20Charley.html@@, a Navajo nuclear physicist and tribal culture adviser, discussed their personal experiences and fielded questions from the audience.

“I had this old film in Chicago called ‘Navajo Boy’, and I didn’t know what to do with it, so I returned it to the people who were in it,” Spitz said, whose current film sprang from a shelved 1950s documentary that he decided to explored the roots of.

The story motivated a 2007 congressional investigation which resulted in support for a $15.7 million Environmental Protection Agency cleanup on Navajo land in Utah@@http://yosemite.epa.gov/r9/sfund/r9sfdocw.nsf/ViewByEPAID/NNN000906087?OpenDocument@@. According to the film’s press release last month, compensation was given to former uranium miners and the EPA conducted a pointed decontamination of the Begay property@@http://navajoboy.com/29661/press-release-navajo-film-media-campaign-win-clean-up-of-uranium/@@. Groundswell produced webisodes documenting the disposal of 17,000 cubic yards of uranium-contaminated sand@@http://navajoboy.com/webisodes/@@.

The Department of Justice, along with the EPA, have finally addressed cancer-by-radiation victims, contaminated water sources and the more than 2,000 abandoned mines located in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest.

The Navajo and EPA, in their joint effort to secure funds from responsible parties, have received fiduciary agreements from energy giants like General Electric, Chevron and Kerr-McGee, who played key roles in uranium procurement during the Cold War arms race@@http://groundswellfilms.org/news/@@.

According to a report by Linda Richards@@http://oregonstate.edu/cla/history/history-science-graduate-students@@, a history of science doctoral candidate at Oregon State, it is estimated that 80 percent of the nuclear fuel chain (mining, milling, production, testing and storage) occurs on or near indigenous communities worldwide.

Events on the Navajo Nation are an example of the consequences of this disproportionate exposure. Oregon has itself been host to such mining sites in both Lakeview @@http://www.wise-uranium.org/udusat1.html#LAKEVIEW@@and Grants Pass@@http://www.blm.gov/or/landsrealty/aml/@@.

Last week, the University School of Law hosted a forum, “Rethinking Land, Reconfirming Rights, Recognizing Sovereignty,” in response to the United States’ recent promise to adopt the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The U.S. had originally rejected the declaration, and WikiLeaks cables pointed to this occurring because of concerns over damage to the free market@@Page down just a bit at this site for a rather extensive collection of cables:   http://indigenousreview.blogspot.com/2011_06_01_archive.html@@. Courts have yet to interpret what adoption will mean for native citizens. Speculating on this was the main aim of the forum.

“Both last week’s talk and this movie illustrate the failures of environmental law and Indian law to protect tribes and tribal natural resources,” event coordinator Joe Bushyhead @@http://calendar.uoregon.edu/EventList.aspx?fromdate=9/27/2011&todate=9/27/2011&display=Day&type=public&eventidn=746&view=EventDetails&information_id=4785@@said. “The declaration dictates a higher standard of treatment for U.S. tribes — a standard that includes ideas of social and environmental justice currently missing in U.S. law.”

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