New Mexico and Arizona Catholics support indigenous communities and water, radiation, and climate issues

May 13, 2016

In New Mexico and Arizona in the US, where no “break free” actions are scheduled, some drove 8 hours to Colorado to join others — back home though, water, nuclear, and climate issues are at the fore.

Many Americans are surprised to learn that American Indians were not permitted to vote until 1948 in New Mexico and Arizona, where many Navajo live. This prevented them from having any say in the allocation of water rights, and since the 1950s the Navajo’s water sources have been contaminated by uranium mining, toxic pollution and coal ash.  There is still no law that requires the clean-up of 15,000 abandoned uranium wells nationwide, 75 percent of which are on Navajo and Federal lands.4 The lack of oversight has resulted in a license to poison Navajo land and water with no fear of retribution.

After last year’s Los Animas mine spill, the EPA sent the Navajo fresh water in bins that were previously used to hold Oil and Fracking Fluid. When they rejected the shipments of dirty water, 40 percent of their homes had no running water.  And last year Senator John McCain (R-AZ) snuck a provision into an unrelated bill that allowed for increased copper mining on and near Navajo lands resulting in even more water contamination.

Navajo citizens are forced to live on less than 10 gallons of water per day, compared to the U.S. average of 100 gallons a day, and 67 percent don’t have access to running water.  Flint’s water situation is bad and poisoning many children.  The advocacy group Clean Up The Mines, has described the situation on Navajo lands as, “far worse than Flint.”

Close to the Arizona border, Maryknoll Sr. Rose Marie Cecchini directs the Office of Peace, Justice, and Stewardship of Creation for the Diocese of Gallup. During her many years in mission in Japan, she learned of the lasting damage from nuclear disasters. Her diocesan office is now an ally of MASE, Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment, which addresses the legacy of uranium contamination and related illnesses in the Gallup area.   Sr. Rose Marie now proposes using New Mexico’s plentiful sunshine as an alternative to mined uranium-dependent nuclear power.

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In October, an article in Gallup’s newspaper, The Independent,  “Gallup’s ‘Solar Sister’s Driving Force for Change,” recognized her as one of the founding members of the Gallup Solar organization, http://www.gallupsolar.org Gallup Solar and related groups advocated for a law that would increase solar power incentives, but the bill was subsequently vetoed by the governor. They continued their advocacy with an article, “Groups demand creative solutions to climate change,” in The Independent, Dec. 12, 2015. In conjunction with New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, Sr. Rose Marie also helps develop monthly prayer services that educate and reflect on the importance of care for creation.

Laughlin, Christina. Flint is Not The Only Water Crisis America Ignored. Huffington Post. February 23, 2016.
Gardner, Justine. Navajo Water Supply is More Horrific Than Flint, But No One Cares Because The’re Native American. The Free Thought Project.com. January 31, 2016.  Morales, Laurel. For Many Navajo, A Visit From the ‘Water Lady’ is a Refreshing Sight. NPR: Code Switch. January 6, 2015.
Laylin, Tafline. Navajo Leader Feels Betrayed by EPA Over ‘Contaminated’ Water Supply. The Guardian. August 21, 2015.