Category: environment

Hope and Trauma in a Poisoned Land: The Impact of Uranium Mining on Navajo Lands + People

 

photo by Nancy Hill

 

advertisement for the show on eye lounge, roosevelt street in phoenix

 

 

 

installation at coconino center for the arts

 

Artist statement for Hope + Trauma in a Poisoned Land

Coconino Center for the Arts August 12, 2017 – October 28, 2017

 

Atomic (r)Age

While many people may be aware of the invaluable contribution of Diné Code Talkers during World War II, few are cognizant of the contribution of Diné uranium miners towards the end of WWII and during the Cold War. Anglos first discovered uranium on the reservation in 1943. Diné miners worked over 500 mines on the reservation until uranium prices dropped in the mid 1980s.

Initially mining company supervisors + public health officials thought the Diné were immune to cancer since their rates were low relative to the national average. More than 5 million pounds of yellowcake was mined which in the process released heavy metals, radon gas and low level radiation from the rock. By 1950 the Public Health Service knew radiation levels at the mines exceeded levels considered safe but did nothing for 2 years.

In May of 1952 the Public Health Service and the Colorado Health Department published a paper called “An Interim Report of a Health Study of the Uranium Mines and Mills.” The levels of radioactive radon gas and radon particles (known as radon daughters), were so high in reservation mines they recommended wetting down rocks while drilling to reduce dust which the miners breathed; giving respirators to the workers; mandating daily showers, frequent changes of clothing, loading the rocks into wagons immediately after being chipped from the walls to decrease time for radon to escape and for miners to receive pre-employment physicals. Sadly, the recommendations were ignored and the Public Health Service was complicit.

Similar to the attitude of the Public Health Service towards southern African-American men in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study from 1932 to 1972 to determine the natural course of syphilis in the human body (even after the discovery of penicillin in 1928), the PHS decided in 1954 to allow natural events to unfold in the mines and the miner’s lungs without explaining the hazards involved.

Economics influenced the woeful state of events on the Navajo nation. In 1955 the Navajo nation received $625,000 a year in uranium royalties which provided about 25% of the annual budget. In light of this, tribal authority at that time demonstrated little interest in learning the hazards of uranium mining. 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 PHS recorded the first death of a 48 year old Anglo mining foreman at the Monument Valley Mine Number 2. He died of lung cancer.

By 1960 the PHS definitively 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. During this period the overall U.S. cancer death rate declined.

As a physician at a small clinic on the Navajo nation since 1987 many of my patients have suffered and continue to suffer the effects of uranium mining. I asked a co-worker whose father worked as a uranium miner in the mid 60s and who died of a uranium related cancer if she’d share with me any memorabilia she had of her father from that period. She shared with me stories of her dad and provided photographs from that period. Her mother died of a uranium related cancer and she has an older brother presently suffering from a uranium related cancer.

I chose to work with a translucent fabric to emphasize the penetrative, see through nature of radioactive material and to place the viewer in the perspective of a radon daughter. The see through material also references the ephemeral, fragile and transient nature of our life experience at a time when the new Secretary of Energy seeks to “make nuclear cool again” in a new atomic age.

For more information regarding ongoing efforts to stop uranium mining just outside the south rim of the Grand Canyon check: https://www.haulno.org/ and http://www.indigenousactionnetwork.org

Rose Hurley and her great grandson in Bitter Springs

water is life (the full story)

The Dinè nation is rich with oil, natural gas, coal, uranium + water in aquifers.  Yet, as a result of decades of being treated as a colonized nation approximately 25% of the 180,000 people living on the rez don’t have running water (or electricity though more people are getting solar systems).

This new 2 color, 16″ x 25″ hand pulled screen print,  edition of 100 will be used to raise money for Dig Deep, a private California based company bringing water (+ solar energy) to the rez through the Navajo Water Project.  The prints go for $70 including shipping with 100% of funds going to the Navajo Water Project.   If interested, email me at jetsonorama@gmail.com.

Peace.

 

event horizon

I was invited to participate in the 2017 Joshua Treenial.  The theme this year was event horizon.  I ventured to Joshua Tree in January to find a potential location for an installation and to obtain source photos.

Thanks to local resident and artist Diane Best I was able to find an abandoned house on the property of Blake Simpson.  Per Blake the house hadn’t been occupied for 10 years or more.   Upon completion of the installation Blake was moved to use the space for community art happenings.  My artist statement describes my thinking about this project.

In general relativity theory, an event horizon is a boundary in space-time beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer. In layman’s terms, it is defined as “the point of no return, the point at which gravitational pull becomes so great as to make escape impossible, even for light.”

My piece, “Inside out” focuses on an environmental point of no return.  Environmental scientists identify 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere as being the point of no return.  As stated on the website of the environmental organization 350.org:

“…Since the beginning of human civilization, our atmosphere contained about 275 ppm of carbon dioxide. That is the planet “on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” Beginning in the 18th century, humans began to burn coal, gas, and oil to produce energy and goods. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere began to rise, at first slowly and now more quickly. Many of the activities we do every day like turning the lights on, cooking food, or heating our homes rely on energy sources that emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. We’re taking millions of years worth of carbon, once stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere.

Right now we’re at over 400 ppm, and we’re adding 2 ppm of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. Unless we are able to rapidly turn that around and return to below 350 ppm this century, we risk triggering tipping points and irreversible impacts that could send climate change spinning truly beyond our control.”

Wildlife biologists predict that at the current rate of temperature rise, 1/3 of all anmal [animal] special are at risk of extinction by 2050 unless CO2 emissions are reduced by 30%.  For this reason, stark imagery from the Salton Sea was used to dramatize the urgency with which we need to act to limit CO2 emissions and subsequent temperature and ocean level increases.

“It would take about 30 feet of sea level rise to connect the Salton Sink to the ocean and permanently fill it again. Realistically, climatologists expect at most 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) of sea level rise by 2100. Without significant reductions to our carbon emissions and/or physical intervention to block sea level rise, the Salton Sink (as well as all of the area reaching from Imperial Valley to the Sea of Cortez) will eventually be permanently under water. (https://saltonseasense.com/2016/01/14/the-other-changing-sea-level/#more-1166)

Our pattern of carbon based energy exploitation and consumption has turned our planet upside down and inside out.  The Hopi have a word for this called “koyaanisqatsi” which means crazy life or life out of balance.

The time to act is now.

Images by Diane Best are below:

Images by Gabrielle Houeix are below:

My artist statement was included in the structure with the hopes of raising awareness and prompting people to action.

Video of the dancing joshua tree: https://vimeo.com/212393820

Brooklyn Street Art blog coverage of the Joshua Tree installation is here.

 

climate change and bird migration

full-barn-2

If one were to google “…what is the impact of climate change on bird migration,” one of the first links that comes up is a page by World Migratory Bird Day 2007.    It seems this organization formed in 2007 to bring light to the issue of climate change on bird migration, had their day then dissolved.  However, they created a fact page with 5 immediate changes to migratory birds as a result of climate change.  One of the first things they identify is this…

“One of the major effects of climate change is the loss of habitats. The habitats migratory birds depend on are in danger to change and to disappear due to increasing temperatures, flooding or desertification. Coastal wetland areas that migrating birds use for nesting and foraging are an example. During their migration, birds rely on these areas to provide food and resting places. There they can refuel and repose before continuing their long journeys. Rising sea levels due to climate change cause the flooding of these habitats and they are lost for birds and other animals. Without these stop-over places, the birds have insufficient reserves to continue and have difficulties completing their journeys.”

This past winter I was invited by 516 Arts in Albuquerque to collaborate with an experimental dance troupe.  Our setting for this collaboration would be the only urban bird sanctuary in the southwest, Valle de Oro in Albuquerque.  I was invited to do an installation on the front of an old milk barn where part of a dance performance would be held.

milk-barn

milk-storage-tank

Upon seeing the old milk storage tank I got excited about installing there as well.  I met with the dancers twice – once in April and later in June to photograph them.  I’d wanted my focus for the piece that I created to be climate change related but I wasn’t sure in what way.  Choosing from hundreds of frames of the dancers I was struck by a series of movements performed as a duet.  For me, the three images I chose from the duet are a visual metaphor of our relationship with nature.

kelsey-brian-left-side

In the first panel one questions whether the humans are defending themselves from the birds, shielding their eyes from the too bright sun in the intense heat to better see what’s overhead.  The relationship between humans and nature is uncertain and to some degree unsettling.

kelsey-brian-right-side

Panel 2 suggests that with time and observation a dialog may form.  Communication may occur.

 

milk-tank

And in panel 3 there’s resolution and synchronicity. Although it’s a simplistic view of our dynamic relationship with nature it suggests that through observation over time we develop a better understanding of our connection to nature and the need to preserve it by addressing the root causes of climate change.

 

ensemble-in-front-of-barn

 

Installation
me-installing-1

me-installing-2

brian-passing-first-wall-at-night

brian-capturing-a-sunset

Shout out to Brian Gonnella, my assistant from Pittsburgh, PA for 6 weeks.  He’s seen above capturing one of Albuquerque’s magical sunsets.

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