“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 these individuals.
“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 tribes.
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 Center.
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).