The Path of Beauty
"The Navajo Nation welcomes
the important dialogue taking place in the World Uranium Hearing. I thank
you for the opportunity to offer a statement.
"The Navajo people join the indigenous populations of the countries all
over the world and sound in the alarm. Not only are we and our precious
Mother Earth in danger, but all life faces the threat of extinction by
radiation. It is the folly of man that has unleashed the dark power of
uranium. It is only now that they are beginning to see the consequences.
"The Navajo people are victims. Many of our people have died from
mysterious diseases for which no cure could be found. Only 20, 30, 50
years later was the determination made that radiation has caused cancer in
"Our people are patriotic, and when the United States
entered the race to develop the atom bomb, our men worked in the mines.
Today only a few are left, and their families suffer the same plight which
has afflicted people who worked at the nuclear test sites in Nevada and
those who lived downwind from the test sites. For those who have passed on
before the diagnosis was discovered, their surviving families only know
the tragedy and pain of watching their loved ones die.
"In the Navajo way and, I am
sure, in the ways of the other indigenous peoples, the world and the
universe were made by the Great Creator and we were placed here to live.
"In our life on earth and in our
relations with the animals, the earth, the sky and the spirits, the
central concept is harmony. To maintain and preserve the harmony is to
walk the path of beauty.
"When a person is sick, it is usually because the harmony has been
disturbed in some way. Therefore, Navajo medicine men perform healing
ceremonies to restore harmony so that the patient can again walk in beauty.
"The harmony for all mankind is disturbed by uranium mining. This substance
lies within the earth, away from the living beings, and there it is meant
to stay. To dig up and distribute this substance into the air and across
the land is fundamentally wrong. The number of human beings who have died
from the effects of uranium testifies to the truth of this statement.
"Hopefully, The World Uranium Hearing and your voices will lead to a
process of purification. Our Mother Earth is in need of a healing ceremony
in order to restore harmony for all life! "
- Peterson Zah
First President of the Navajo Nation
Quoted from Rondon (1992)
Dr. Peterson Zah is a Diné from
the Navajo Nation, the largest indigenous tribe in the United States of
America. Zah has worked for over 30 years to defend the interests of
all Native American people and is widely respected among the Arizona
Zah has served as the Adviser to
the Arizona State University President on American Indian Affairs for 10
years. During this time, he has helped double the university’s
Native American student population from 672 to over 1,300 and increase
retention from 43 percent to 78 percent, among the highest of any major
college or university in the country. Last fall he received a lifetime
achievement award from the National Indian Education Association.
Zah’s respect for the value of
education is rooted in his own story. Born in 1937 and raised in the
middle of the Navajo Reservation at remote Low Mountain, Arizona. He left
his home and family in 1953 to attend Phoenix Indian School, later
enrolling at Phoenix Community College and finally Arizona State
University, where he earned a
bachelor’s degree in education in 1963. He returned to his homeland as a
vocational educator, teaching Navajo adults the essentials of the
carpentry trade, and then as a field coordinator for VISTA Indian Training
Quickly proving his leadership
abilities, he is co-founder and became executive director of DNA-People’s
Legal Services, a nonprofit legal services program for the Navajo, Hopi
and Apache people. He helped them with legal matters, set up widespread
community education programs, and championed native rights.
In 1982, Zah was elected
Chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council. In 1990, under a new tribal
government organization, Peterson Zah was elected the first president of
the Navajo Nation, leading the movement to restructure and modernize their
governmental system from a council to a nation. Throughout his career he
has made education his first priority.
Zah, who is considered one of the
100 most important Native Americans in the last century and a key leader
in Native American government and education, recently received an Honorary
Doctoral Degree of Humane Letters from Arizona State University.
Rondon A (1992) Testimony. Pp. 157-158 in Poison
Fire, Sacred Earth: Testimonies, Lectures, Conclusions.
World Uranium Hearing, Salzburg 1992. Published by the International
Action Center, New York (ISBN-3-928505-00-9)
Photograph: Monument Valley in
Navajo country by Fred Buckner (USA).