Author: jetsonorama

stories from ground zero

 

July 16, 1945 was an auspicious day in the history of humankind and the planet as the US Army’s Manhattan Project detonated Trinity, the first atomic bomb, in Jornada del Muerto, NM.  (“Jornada del Muerto” fittingly translates as “Journey of the Dead Man” or “Working Day of the Dead.”)  July 16 is also the day of one of the worst nuclear accidents in US history with the Church Rock, NM uranium tailings spill in 1979 on the Navajo nation (occurring 5 months after the nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island).

An earthen dam holding uranium tailings and other toxic waste ruptured releasing 1,100 tons of uranium waste and 94 million gallons of radioactive water into the Rio Puerco and through Navajo lands. Sheep in the wash keeled over and died as did crops along the riverbank. According to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report the levels of radioactivity in the Rio Puerco near the breached dam were 7000 times that of what is allowed in drinking water.

 

Larry King, a Church Rock resident who was an underground surveyor at the Church Rock Uranium mine at the time the dam failed in 1979, speaks to a group of anti-uranium activists on the 40th anniversary of the spill, July 16, 1979. Activists were present from Japan and across the U.S.

 

Activist + community organizer, Leona Morgan, of Nuclear Issues Study Group, Diné No Nukes and the Radiation Monitoring Project spoke at the Church Rock 40th Anniversary commemoration. She noted “The Church Rock Chapter of the Navajo Nation passed a resolution in July 2018 opposing the storage and transport of high-level nuclear waste from nuclear power reactors across the country through the local community along the railroad track. There are two proposals for nuclear waste storage of irradiated fuel from power reactors which are going through the neighborhood process as part of the application for a license from the United States nuclear regulatory commission. The Navajo nation currently has a ban on transportation of radioactive materials unless it’s for cleanup of legacy waste from uranium mining or milling for medical purposes. However, the Navajo nation‘s jurisdiction does not extend to state and federal roads and railways. Still there is a need for protection from further contamination of radioactive materials within the homeland of Diné peoples.”

 

In an effort to end WWII and to beat the Soviets in developing a hydrogen bomb uranium mining under the Manhattan Project began on Navajo and Lakota lands in 1944.  Two years later management of the program was transferred to the US Atomic Energy Commission. The Navajo nation provided the bulk of the country’s uranium ore for our nuclear arsenal until uranium prices dropped in the mid 80s and is largely responsible for our winning the Cold War.

However, environmental regulation for mining the ore was nonexistent in the period prior to the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. During this time uranium mining endangered thousands of Navajo workers in addition to producing contamination that persists in adversely affecting air + water quality and contaminating Navajo lands with over 500 abandoned, unsealed former mine sites.

Private companies hired thousands of Navajo men to work the uranium mines and disregarded recommendations to protect miners and mill workers.   In 1950 the U.S. Public Health Service began a human testing experiment on Navajo miners without their informed consent during the federal government’s study of the long-term health effects from radiation poisoning. (This study followed the same violation of human rights protocol as the US Public Health Service study on the long-term effects of syphilis on humans by experimenting on non-consenting African American men in what is known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment from 1932 – 1972.)

In May 1952 the Public Health Service and the Colorado Health Department publish a paper called “An interim Report of a Health Study of the Uranium Mines and Mils.

 

“Everybody is afraid of nuclear war. Are they not waging nuclear war when the miners die from cancer from mining the uranium?” John Trudell (Cyndy Begay holding a photo of her dad.)

 

 The report noted that levels of radioactive radon gas and radon particles (known as “radon daughters”), were so high in reservation mines that they recommended wetting down rocks while drilling to reduce dust which the miners breathed; giving respirators to the workers; mandating daily showers after a work shift, frequent changes of clothing, loading rocks into wagons immediately after being chipped from the wall to decrease time for radon to escape and for miners to receive pre-employment physicals. Sadly, the recommendations were ignored.

 

By 1960 the Public Health Service definitely declared that uranium miners faced an elevated risk of pulmonary cancer. However, it wasn’t until June 10, 1967 that the Secretary of Labor issued a regulation declaring that “…no uranium miner could be exposed to radon levels that would induce a higher risk of cancer than that faced by the general population.” By this time, it was too late. In the 15 years after the uranium boom the cancer death rate among the Diné doubled from the early 1970s to the late 1990s while the overall U.S. cancer death rate declined during this same interval.

 

The text reads “Name:  Harvey Speck, Age: 87, Previous work:  Uranium miner at the Oljato Moonlight Mine 1956 – 1964.”

As high rates of illness began to occur workers were frequently unsuccessful in court cases seeking compensation.  In 1990 Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act which seeks to make compensation available to persons exposed to fallout from nuclear weapons testing and for living uranium miners, mill workers or their survivors who had worked in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona between January 1, 1947 and December 31, 1971.  An amendment to this bill is awaiting Congress after its recess that will expand years of coverage from 1971 to the mid 1990s as well as expanding the regions of the US covered.

 

Design by Klee Benally of http://www.indigenousaction.org

 

At the other end of the life spectrum the Navajo Birth Cohort Study is the first prospective epidemiologic study of pregnancy and neonatal outcomes in a uranium-exposed population.  The goal of the Navajo Birth Cohort Study (NBCS) is to better understand the relationship between uranium exposures and birth outcomes and early developmental delays on the Navajo Nation.  It started in 2014 and has funding through 2024.

 

The text around JC + Gracie reads “The Navajo Nation encompasses more than 27,000 square miles across three states – New Mexico, Utah + Arizona – and is the largest home for indigenous people in the U.S. From 1944 to 1986 hundreds of uranium and milling operations extracted an estimated 400 million tons of uranium ore from Diné (Navajo) lands. These mining + processing operations have left a legacy of potential exposures to uranium waste from abandoned mines/mills, homes and other structures built with mining waste which impacts the drinking water, livestock + humans.”

“As a heavy metal, uranium primarily damages the kidneys + urinary system. While there have been many studies of environmental + occupational exposure to uranium and associated renal effects in adults, there have been very few studies of other adverse health effects. In 2010 the University of New Mexico partnered with the Navajo Area Indian Health Service and Navajo Division of Health to evaluate the association between environmental contaminants + reproductive birth outcomes.”

“This investigation is called the Navajo Birth Cohort Study and will follow children for 7 years from birth to early childhood. Chemical exposure, stress, sleep, diet + their effects on the children’s physical, cognitive + emotional development will be studied.”

“JC with her younger sister, Gracie (who is a NBCS participant). #stopcanyonmine”

 

Efforts to mine uranium adjacent to the Grand Canyon have accelerated during the Trump administration. The most pressing threat comes from Canyon Mine located closely to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Because of the plethora of abandoned mines on the reservation the Navajo Nation banned uranium mining on the reservation in 2005.

 

 

However, it’s possible still to transport ore from off the reservation across the reservation. Approximately 180 miles of the Canyon Mine haul route would cross the Navajo Nation where trucks hauling ore had 2 separate accidents in 1987.

For more information on these and other uranium related issues at Ground Zero, check:

  1. facebook.com/nuclearissuesstudygroup/
  2. radmonitoring.org
  3. facebook.com/NIRSnet
  4. facebook.com/NukeWatch.NM
  5. indigenousaction.org
  6. grandcanyontrust.org

 

(DOE map from 2014)

 

 

 

Timeline

  1. November 8, 1895   German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen discovers x-rays.
  2. 1896   French physicist Henri Becquerel discovers radioactivity.
  3. 1898   Marie + Pierre Curie discover polonium + radium.
  4. December 28, 1931  Irene Joliot-Curie reports studying penetrating particles produced by beryllium when bombarded by alpha rays. She believes the particles, which are actually neutrons, to be energetic gamma rays.
  5. May 1932   British physicist James Chadwick discovers the neutron.
  6. September 12, 1933  Leo Szilard conceives the idea of using a chain reaction of neutron collisions with atomic nuclei to release energy. He also considers the possibility of using this to make bombs.
  7. July 4, 1934  Szilard files a patent application describing the use of neutron-induced chain reactions to create explosions and the concept of the critical mass.
  8. January 29, 1939  Robert Oppenheimer hears about the discovery of fission. Within a few minutes, he realizes that excess neutrons must be emitted, and that it might be possible to build a bomb.
  9. September 1, 1939  Nazi Germany invades Poland, beginning World War II. The U.S. didn’t send soldiers overseas initially. President Roosevelt declared that America would support the Allies with material, assuming the role of “arsenal of democracy.” The initial interest was in mining vanadium, a heavy metal used to make steel alloys and amour plating for tanks and ships. Byproducts of vanadium milling are carnotite and uranium. Uranium which was initially considered a waste product and was used at this time as a coloring agent for ceramics (ex. Fiestaware).
  10. April 9, 1940  Germany invades Denmark and Norway.
  11. May 10, 1940  Germany launches its assault on Western Europe, attacking Holland, Belgium + France.
  12. June 22, 1941 Nazi Germany invades the Soviet Union.
  13. September 3, 1941 With PM Winston Churchill’s endorsement, the British Chiefs of Staff agree to begin development of an atomic bomb.
  14. December 7, 1941 Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. We declare war on them the following day.
  15. December 11, 1941 The US declares war on Germany and Italy following their declaration of war on the US.
  16. January 19, 1942  President Roosevelt approves the production of an atomic bomb.
  17. August 1942        Luke Yazzie reveals to trading post owner Harry Goulding and Vanadium Corporation of America prospector, Denny Viles, the carnotite deposit in Cane Valley that would become the Monument Number 2 Mine located on Yazzie Mesa.
  18. August 13, 1942  The Manhattan Project is formally established.
  19. September 19, 1942  Oak Ridge, TN is selected as the site for a uranium processing pilot plant. Construction begins February 18, 1943 and the site is closed off the public April 1, 1943.
  20. November 1942   VCA obtains the rights to Harry Goulding’s Monument Number 1 site in Monument Valley.
  21. December 1942M.  Sundt Company is appointed contractor to build Los Alamos Laboratory. It opens in April 1943.
  22. April 20, 1943   A contract is concluded with the University of California to manage Los Alamos, NM. This contract served as the basis for University of California management of both the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore laboratories.
  23. September 8, 1943   Italy surrenders to Allied forces.
  24. September 20, 1943 John von Neumann visits Los Alamos, NM and points out the potential for high compression from implosion thus theorizing a method for making an atomic bomb.
  25. April 1944   IBM calculating equipment arrives at Los Alamos, NM and is used in implosion research.
  26. June 6, 1944 Allied forces launch the Normandy invasion.
  27. September 1944 President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sign the Hyde Park aide-memoire, pledging to continue researching atomic technology.
  28. October 27, 1944 Robert Oppenheimer approves plans for a bomb test in Jornada del Muerto valley at the Alamagordo Bombing Range.
  29. December 22, 1944 First Fat Man bomb assembly is completed.
  30. February 13, 1945 Dresden, Germany is burned down in an incendiary raid killing 50,000.
  31. February 19, 1945    Marines land on Iwo Jima, a Japanese observation post for B-29 raids. Over the next two months 6281 Marines are killed and 21,865 are wounded in capturing the island from 20,000 defenders.
  32. July 16, 1945 As part of the Trinity Test, the first nuclear bomb named “Gadget” is detonated in Alamogordo, NM in the first atomic explosion in history.
  33. July 26, 1945 President Truman issues the Potsdam Declaration which warns Japan of “prompt and utter destruction” and requires unconditional surrender of the Japanese armed forces.
  34. July 29, 1945  The Japanese government rejects the Potsdam surrender demand.
  35. August 6, 1945  The bomber Enola Gay drops the atomic bomb Little Boy at 8:16:02 Hiroshima time.
  36. August 9, 1945  Fat Man (2nd atomic bomb) is dropped over Nagasaki at 11:02 Nagasaki time.
  37. August 14, 1945  Emperor Hirohito orders an Imperial Edict be issued accepting the Potsdam surrender agreement.
  38. September 2, 1945  Japanese officials sign the formal Japanese Instrument of Surrender on board the USS Missouri.
  39. January 24, 1946  The United Nations Atomic Energy Commission is established.
  40. July 1, 1946  Testing of nuclear weapons begins at Bikini Atoll in the Marshal Islands.
  41. August 29, 1949  The Soviet Union explodes its first atomic bomb in Asia. President Truman waits until September 23, 1949 to announce the Soviet atomic bomb.
  42. June 9, 1950  Nobel prize winning physicist Niels Bohr presents his “Open Letter to the United Nations.” As early as 1944 Bohr had recognized that the creation of atomic weapons would completely change the nature of future warfare. Bohr stressed the free exchange of scientific and technological information as critical to creating the basis for peaceful cooperation between nations and reflected on the hopes + dangers of the Atomic Age.
  43. January 27, 1951  The U.S. conducts its first nuclear detonation, Operation Ranger Shot Able, at the Nevada Test Site.
  44. October 28, 1951    While nuclear bombing tests continue in the Marshall Islands the United States conducts the “Baker Shot” at the Nevada Test Site.
  45. December 20, 1951  The first U.S. nuclear reactor to produce electricity goes critical.
  46. 1951 The U.S. Public Health Service begins a human testing experiment on Navajo miners without their informed consent during the federal government’s study of the long term health effects from radiation poisoning.
  47. May 1952  The Public Health Service and the Colorado Health Department publish a paper called “An interim Report of a Health Study of the Uranium Mines and Mils.” The report noted that levels of radioactive radon gas and radon particles (known as “radon daughters”), were so high in reservation mines that they recommended wetting down rocks while drilling to reduce dust which the miners breathed; giving respirators to the workers; mandating daily showers after a work shift, frequent changes of clothing, loading rocks into wagons immediately after being chipped from the wall to decrease time for radon to escape and for miners to receive pre-employment physicals. Sadly, the recommendations were ignored.
  48. October 3, 1952  The U.K. tests its first atomic bomb known as Hurricane.
  49. November 1, 1952  The U.S. tests its first ever thermonuclear device at Eniwetok Atoll in the South Pacific which yielded 10 megatons of TNT and was roughly 1000 times larger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima seven years earlier.
  50. March 17, 1953  The U.S. conducts the “Annie” nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site. A wood-framed house was built for the occasion as part of the civil defense study on the effects of a nuclear explosion.
  51. May 19, 1953  The U.S conducts the “Harry” test. It was the 9th nuclear detonation in the test series at the Nevada Test Site. This test was the most efficient pure fission device ever detonated. Due to an unexpected change in the wind “Harry” caused the highest amount of radioactive fallout of any test in the continental United States contaminating the city of St. George, Utah. The test was later called “Dirty Harry.”
  52. June 19, 1953  Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed by the U.S. for passing atomic secrets to the USSR.
  53. March 1, 1954  The U.S. conducts the “Bravo” test which is the largest thermonuclear device in history up to that point. The bomb was in a form readily adaptable for delivery by an aircraft and was thus America’s first weaponized hydrogen bomb.
  54. November 22, 1955  The first megaton-range Soviet Hydrogen bomb is detonated in Kazakhstan.
  55. 1955   The Navajo nation received $625,000 a year in uranium royalties which provided about 25% of the annual budget. By 1956 the United States was the world’s leading provider of uranium thanks to the Navajo nation. Monument Valley provided nearly 1.4 million tons of uranium ore to the American people. At the same time the Public Health Service recorded the first death of a 48 year old white mining foreman at the Monument Number 2 mine who died of lung cancer.
  56. October 30, 1961 The Soviet Union detonates Tsar Bomba which is the largest nuclear device in human history. The weapon yielded 57 megatons of TNT which is 4 times larger than any nuclear device tested by the U.S and amounted to all of the explosives used during WWII multiplied by 10.
  57. October 16, 1962  The Cuban Missile Crisis begins after surveillance photos taken by a routine U-2 flight over Cuba shows Soviet Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles on the island.
  58. October 10, 1963     The Limited Test Ban Treaty, signed by JFK and Nikita Khrushchev, enter into effect. The LTBT bans all nuclear weapons test above ground, in the atmosphere, under water and in outer space.
  59. October 16, 1964   China tests its first atomic bomb.
  60. June 10, 1967   By 1960 the Public Health Service definitely declared that uranium miners faced an elevated risk of pulmonary cancer. However, it wasn’t until June 10, 1967 that the Secretary of Labor issued a regulation declaring that “…no uranium miner could be exposed to radon levels that would induce a higher risk of cancer than that faced by the general population.” By this time, it was too late. In the 15 years after the uranium boom the cancer death rate among the Diné doubled from the early 1970s to the late 1990s while the overall U.S. cancer death rate declined during this same interval.
  61. June 17, 1967  China tests its first hydrogen bomb.
  62. July 1, 1968    Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is opened for signature. A total of 190 parties have joined the Treaty since 1968 with five states being recognized as nuclear-weapons states: the U.S., Russia, the United Kingdom, France + China.
  63. May 26, 1972S.  President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) and the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), both of which were important steps in slowing the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the USSR.
  64. May 18, 1974   India tests its first “peaceful nuclear device dubbed Smiling Buddha which was the first confirmed nuclear test by a nation outside the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
  65. April 7, 1978    President Jimmy Carter cancelled production of a neutron bomb, a thermonuclear weapon designed specifically to release a large portion of its energy as fast neutrons rather than explosive energy.
  66. March 28, 1979   A partial nuclear meltdown occurs in one of the two Three Mile Island nuclear reactors in Pennsylvania. The partial meltdown resulted in the release of small amounts of radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment. It was the worst accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history.
  67. August 16, 1979    An earthen dam holding uranium tailings and other toxic waste ruptured releasing 1,100 tons of uranium waste and 94 million gallons of radioactive water into the Rio Puerco and through Diné lands. Sheep in the Rio Puerco wash keeled over and died as did crops along the river bank. According to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report the levels of radioactivity in the Rio Puerco near the breached dam were 7000 times that of what is allowed in drinking water.
  68. April 26, 1986   A catastrophic nuclear accident occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine under the direct jurisdiction of central authorities of the Soviet Union. An explosion and fire release large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere which spread over much of western USSR and Europe.
  69. August 2, 1990   Depleted uranium munitions made from nuclear reactor waste was first deployed on a large scale during the Gulf War. The U.S. military used depleted uranium for tank armor and for some bullets due to its high density helping to penetrate enemy armored vehicles. Within 2 years of their use grotesque birth defects numbers grew – such as babies born with 2 heads, or missing eyes, hands and legs, or babies born with stomachs and brains inside out. Leukemia cancer rates in children up to age 14 years doubled from 1992 to 1999.
  70. September 23, 1992  The U.S. conducted its last nuclear test, code named “Divider,” at an underground facility in Nevada. It was the last of 1032 nuclear tests carried out by the U.S. since the Trinity Test 47 years earlier.
  71. May 11, 1998    India detonates its first “weaponized” nuclear bomb. It was the first time India carried out such tests since 1974. The experiments took place without any warning to the international community and there was widespread outrage and concern over the tests.
  72. May 28, 1998   Pakistan detonates its first nuclear weapons in response to India’s nuclear tests two weeks earlier. The move provoked worldwide condemnation and fears of a nuclear conflict in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
  73. October 9, 2006   North Korea detonates its first nuclear bomb.
  74. March 11, 2011   Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident occurs after a severe earthquake off the coast of Japan.
  75. January 25, 2018  The symbolic Nuclear “Doomsday Clock” moved to 2 minutes away from midnight which is the closest it’s been since the Cold War in 1953 when the U.S. and Soviet Union were testing hydrogen bombs. Scientists behind the report cited a long list of concerning geopolitical developments, many of which come back to Donald Trump, as reason for the move: a halt in U.S. nuclear nonproliferation negotiations with Russia, Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and escalating nuclear tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Isla Memory Project

 

Shortly after the Great Depression newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented by Executive Order a public works program to get US citizens back to work called the New Deal.  A program that emerged was called the Works Progress Administration or WPA and one of the communities to benefit from the WPA projects was the high altitude community of La Isla (located in San Luis Valley of southern Colorado).  In the mid 1930s a one room school house was constructed for this rural, farming community which was used until 1959.

I was invited by CU University Field School to spend a week this past spring learning the history and hearing stories of people in this cattle ranching and farming community with a large population of people who trace their ancestry back to the Spanish colonialists who passed through the region beginning in the 1500s.  I interviewed people who attended the one room school house made of adobe hearing anecdotes of the simplicity of their lives in the 1950s.  Family photos were used as reference images in the murals.  In talking with former La Isla student Walter Perea he remembered that not many people had cameras back then but his mom had a Brownie camera with which she’d document their lives.  He was able to find her camera and a photo of him holding it is included in the fabric collage.  He also remembered going to school with a Flintstone lunchbox and while he couldn’t find that I was able to locate a used Flintstone lunchbox from that period at a small antique store in Antonito, CO.  An image of this also appears in the fabric mural.

My experience in this community was brief but I was there long enough to begin to get a sense of the interconnectedness of families in the valley and how people supported one another over time to build community.  I got to attend a large birthday celebration for a 92 year old matriarch which reinforced for me the value the community placed on family and the wisdom of elders.  Like the stories I heard from individuals in the community the birthday celebration was an opportunity for people to reflect on the interconnectedness of their lives.  While I often don’t have difficulty leaving a installation spending a couple days watching the fabric mural under different lighting conditions over the course of a day and being mesmerized by the movement of the fabric to the subtle breezes in the morning and evening to the manic movement of the fabric midday as the wind picked up I felt like narratives emerged from the fabric that made this piece hard to leave.

Thank you to CU Field School, Ron Rael, Drew Ludwig for assisting and to the former students of La Isla who shared their stories with me.

 

This text comes from a recent Facebook post by Cletus Perea… “So Mercy Ann Gallegos And myself decided to have a Mini Class Reunion in our 1st & 2nd grade schoolhouse. This is also the place of The La Isla School Mural Project where some of our ancestors are featured. Mercy was actually raised by the 2 elderly ladies in the picture. Her Grandma Lupita Sanchez, Great Grandma Cirila Valdez And her Mom Berta Ortiz as well as my Dad Juan Perea
Felix Sanchez And my Grampa Estevan Perea.
Then we went to Los Cerritos Cemetery to celebrate our ancestors life and our Blessings.
My cousin Mercy comes from Albuquerque so it was nice catching up.
Mercy, Thank You for your time and an enjoyable morning. ♥️🎶🎵🤠
By the way, that was me on the horse 62 years later. 🤠

 

 

 

Cletus with his cousin, Mercy Ann Gallegos, standing by the photo of himself as a little boy wearing a suit with one of his brothers and his mom, circa 1957.

 

 

 

 

 

the green room

 

 

 

the green room, a place of meditation + contemplation.

green references the long history of uranium mining on the colorado plateau/navajo nation where 90% of our nuclear arsenal during the cold war came from diné lands and the resulting contamination of the land, water, livestock and humans since 1942.

to learn more about ongoing threats of uranium mining in and around the grand canyon (our national treasure and one of the 7 wonders of the world), check the grand canyon trust for more info.  in a recently published paper they note “You’d think the Grand Canyon — our crown jewel national park — would be protected from uranium contamination. Think again.  Several uranium mines and hundreds more uranium claims outside park boundaries threaten to permanently pollute the most remarkable gorge in the world.”

also check indigenous action media for the good work they’re doing with the #haulno campaign to prevent uranium ore from the canyon mine at the south rim of the grand canyon across diné lands to a mill in southern utah.

to quote concerned citizen susan jane heske “we can make a difference by reading the grand canyon trust report and calling/emailing our elected officials supporting the ban on uranium mining and protecting the grand canyon, and/or donating to legal funds and nonprofit organizations.”

lastly, check out the short film by bart hawkins on the impact of mining uranium at canyon mine is having on the water source for the havasupai who live in the grand canyon.

stay strong in the struggle!

Messages from the Underworld (Blue Sky Gallery show in Portland)

 

One of the best memes I saw over the past couple years read “Fuck a wall.  America needs to build a big ass mirror to take a look at itself.”  I used the opportunity to show work at Blue Sky to look at similarities we share in the Americas rather than what separates us.  To this end I used corn as a metaphor for our shared realities.  As noted in my artist statement for the show…

“Maize or corn, a cereal grain first domesticated by indigenous peoples in southern Mexico about 10,000 years ago, is the most widely grown grain crop throughout the Americas and has become a staple food in many parts of the world. However, little of this maize is consumed directly by humans: most is used for corn ethanolanimal feed and other maize products, such as corn starch and corn syrup. Genetically modified maize made up 85% of the maize planted in the United States in 2009. Its ubiquitous presence in unsuspecting food items contributes to the soaring prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus.

In 1894, two brothers, Dr John Harvey Kellogg and Will Keith “WK” Kellogg, were running a sanitarium and health spa in the town of Battle Creek, Michigan. Among the treatments offered at the sanitarium/hospital for various ailments were hot and cold water baths, hydro-therapy with water enemas, electric-current therapy, light therapy using both sunlight and artificial lamps, and a regimen of exercise and massage. Among the more famous of the hospital’s clients through the 1910’s and 1920’s were President Warren G Harding, actor Johnny Weissmuller, Henry Ford, Amelia Earhart, Sojourner Truth, and Mary Todd Lincoln.

As Seventh Day Adventists the Kelloggs believed in maintaining the purity of the “body’s temple”, and forbade the use of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. They were also strict vegetarians. Dr. John Kellogg was firmly convinced that sex itself was impure and harmful–and most especially the “solitary vice”, the “self-pollution” of masturbation. Kellogg married, but never consummated the union. Among the treatments Dr. Kellogg proposed for masturbation were piercing the foreskin with silver wires to prevent erections, and using carbolic acid to burn the clitoris so it wouldn’t be touched.

Kellogg convinced himself that eating meats and spicy foods increased the desire for sex, and forbade any of them at his sanitarium. Following the earlier lead of Presbyterian religious fanatic Sylvester Graham, who had invented the whole-wheat graham cracker as part of a diet that would reduce people’s sexual desire and stop them from both copulating and masturbating. Kellogg now attempted to make his own anti-sex food which became the corn flakes we know + love today. (From The Daily Kos 10.23.14.)

Meanwhile, thousands of Central American migrants trudging through Mexico towards the US have regularly been described as either fleeing gang violence or extreme poverty. But another crucial driving factor behind the migrant caravan has been harder to grasp: climate change. Most members of the migrant caravans come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – three countries where corn is a cash crop and devastated by violence, organized crime and systemic corruption, the roots of which can be traced back to the region’s cold war conflicts. Experts say that alongside those factors, climate change in the region is exacerbating – and sometimes causing – a miasma of other problems including crop failures and poverty.

So when one thinks of what it means to be an American – whether it’s indigenous people praying with it’s pollen, religious groups ingesting it to curb sexual desires, people with amputations + blindness from type 2 diabetes or Central Americans pursuing a safer and better life, we have to examine our relationship with corn as a signifier of our shared experience.”

 

Ryan Pinto performing his chapter to “Messages from the Underworld” titled “Tribe-scendent.”

My Justseeds homie, Thea Gahr holding it down pulling screens for the people.

 

Shout out to Kingsley for the assistance.

 

Founding Blue Sky member Chris Rauschenberg rocking his t shirt from the show (who was heard saying under his breath “I went to an art opening and all I got was this lousy t shirt.”)

 

With my collaborators Ryan Pinto and Jesse Hazelip.

 

 

merry christmas from the rez

 

 

 

 

I’d wanted to get this up sooner but I had a heck of a time getting the images + video to upload from the rez.  I had to wait until I went to town (Flagstaff) to use a faster service.  Anyway, in the spirit of festiveness… Christmas lights in the sheep corral on a cold December night.

baa, baa black sheep…

 

Last month I had an opportunity to get this quickie up at the old Wauneta Trading Post.  Man, a quick Google search reveals that this place had quite the reputation as “the” spot  for bootleggers on the rez to get large quantities of beer back in the day.

We had big rains in October.  A night or two before I installed a 26 year old French woman was involved in a horrible accident on Highway 98.  During one of the big rains a section of Highway 89 washed away in the night.  In the darkness of night vehicles on the highway couldn’t see that a section of highway washed away.   The car driven by the young French woman dropped into a sink hole.  She had 2 other passengers in the car and they all survived.  Stunned, the driver got out of the car and within seconds was hit by a vehicle coming from the other direction trying to avoid the sink hole.

I can’t get over her thinking “…Mon dieu!  What just happened? We just survived that horrific accident” and wham.  It doesn’t seem fair.

In order to get to the site all traffic was rerouted through Hopiland.  In Kykotsmovi traffic went south to Leupp and then onto Highway 89 near Flagstaff.  As much as I wanted to whine about a trip that normally takes 75 minutes taking 3 and 1/2 hours I couldn’t when I thought of the 26 year old French woman who’d been tricked by life.

A storm front bringing the first light snow of the season was coming in from the west.  making for dramatic light and lots of wind.  Such early season storms get people saying things like “…Yeah, we’re due for an El Nino winter.  It’s been a while.”

It has been a while.

water is life

 

 

 

 

 

Last month I received a letter from Maria Singleton, a woman I met in November in Nogales at a demonstration organized by School of Americas Watch.  She identified herself as a member of a humanitarian aid organization based in Ajo, AZ near the U.S., Mexico border.

She wrote “…This last year has been rough for humanitarian aid workers in Ajo with the arrest of Scott Warren and 8 No More Deaths volunteers charged with misdemeanors and fined for leaving water for migrants out on the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge.  In order to get a permit to enter the wildlife refuge they are requiring people to sign a form that says they will not leave water, socks or first aid items out.  These are the exact items that we leave out for the migrants that are passing through this incredibly dangerous part of the desert.  This policy started last August and resulted in the charges that our friends with No More Deaths are now facing. “

Maria pointed out that she and her partner own property directly across from the entrance to Cabeza Prieta which abuts the Mexican border.  This region has the highest migrant death rate due to the brutality of the desert crossing.  Maria offered the walls of their building which is ironically known as “the ice house” as it was the place where ice was stored for the town of Ajo (during its copper mining boom years from the early 1900s through the 1960s).  She also noted that there will be a faith based action of civil disobedience August 3 – 6 which will be staged in Cabeza Prieta.

As stated by the Faith Floods the Desert organizers “Our purpose in this action is three-fold. First, to call attention to the escalating injustice of US policies toward migrants in order to inspire others to raise their voices. Second, to act in solidarity with the volunteers facing criminal charges for living out their religious mandate to welcome and care for the stranger. And third, to raise the call of our faith traditions as an act of resistance against the cruelty and violence that dominate US policy and actions.”

Joined by a small crew of filmmakers and assistants I journeyed to Ajo to begin to understand what’s happening there and to install the message “water is life.”  We were welcomed warmly by the Ajo activist community to whom I’d like to recognize for their expressions of shared humanity and for their bravery.  Shout out to the world’s finest crew as well – Justin Clifton, Drew Ludwig, Stash Wislocki and Jerrel Singer.

For more information on the impact of this administration’s border policy on humanitarian aid workers

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/24/us-immigration-activists-arizona-no-more-deaths-charged

Examples of border patrol activity disrupting humanitarian aid efforts:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqaslbj5Th8

More information on the upcoming Faith Floods the Desert action:

https://uucsj.org/join-us-to-flood-the-desert/ 

Brooklyn Street Art post:  http://www.brooklynstreetart.com/theblog/2018/07/28/destroying-desert-water-bottles-chip-thomas-new-work-in-ajo-arizona/

spirits in a material world (the lazy stitch show)

May 3, 2018 the show “Lazy Stitch” opened.  Organized by artist Cannupa Hanska Luger the promotional material for the show reads “…

AZY STITCH exhibition opened May 3 at Ent Center for Contemporary Art UCCS Galleries of Contemporary Art
Colorado Springs, CO. Organized by Cannupa Hanska Luger with collaborating artists Chip Thomas, Jesse Hazelip, Kali SpitzerKathy Whitman & 1000 Tiny Mirrors. Lazy Stitch is on exhibition through July 21, 2018

Contemporary artists from diverse backgrounds work together in collaboration with artist Cannupa Hanska Luger to present a new exhibition that investigates the interconnectedness of the human story. Through social engagement, public art, monumental sculpture, mural installation, photography, performance and wearable sculptural regalia, Lazy Stitch takes the relationship of the bead and the thread as its context, co-creating narrative about life on this planet.

“What constitutes a bead is the hole. It holds the thread. The voided matter actually creates the function of the object. This void becomes the potential for connection. In this respect, finding value in the relationship between humans acknowledges the importance of intersecting experiences which create a larger narrative.” -Cannupa Hanska Luger

The term lazy stitch describes a sewing methodology often used in Indigenous beadwork. Individual multi-colored beads are threaded and sewn, one row at a time, eventually revealing a complex image when all rows are complete. The lazy stitch is an approach to craft-making, but also represents a value system in which each individual is important to the whole. Lazy Stitch uses this metaphor as a way to explore contemporary issues through collaborative practice, while revealing the potential for collective social agency.”

This past February I spent a weekend with Cannupa, artist Cheyenne Randall and curator Erin Joyce.  It was this time that afforded me the opportunity to learn stories about deities from the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara of North Dakota.  Cannupa gave the framework of the warrior twins Big Medicine and Black Medicine (whom he referred to as “The One Who Checks” and “The One Who Balances”).  For this show he imagined them as spirit guides who returned to the material plane to remind those who know, those who read the signs that it’s time for us to address our environment + social injustices.  Cannupa and Cheyenne spent a day dressed in the regalia Cannupa and his mom, Kathy Whitman made for spirit beings as they went about their day engaging in acts of civil disobedience with the infrastructure of the extractive fossil fuel industry, getting food from a local trading post and getting gas from another trading post.  A day in the life with the hero archetypes…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lazy Stitch

tintype photo by kali spitzer with the beaded portrait created by cannupa + various communities collaborating with the project by making clay beads.

 

jesse hazelip pasteups of bomber buffaloes

 

 

decorated ceramic buffalo skulls + barbed wire sculpture by cannupa + jesse

 

rope performance by 1000 tiny mirrors

 

 

the warrior twins battling the extractive fossil fuels industry beast

 

Limited edition (50), hand-pulled screen print “spirits in a material world.”  One hundred percent of sales from the first 25 prints sold (at $50/print) resulted in $1250 being donated to the National Women’s Association of Canada.    They state on their website “…The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has worked for more than four decades to document the systemic violence impacting Indigenous women, girls, their families, and communities. From 2005 to 2010, NWAC’s Sisters In Spirit (SIS) Initiative confirmed 582 cases of missing and/or murdered Indigenous women and girls over a span of twenty years and worked to raise awareness of this human rights issue. ”  The remaining 25 prints will be sold through Justseeds.org.

new screen prints!

 

19 x 25, one color hand pulled screen print on archival paper; edition of 75.  This print was made originally for School of the Americas Border Encuentro 2017.   $50.

 

 

Three Wee Kings …………… Colonialist version

Free Wee Kings …………….Abolitionist version

We Free Kings ……………. Roland Kirk version, 1961

 

2 color, hand pulled, limited edition print of 50 on archival paper.  $50

 

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