Relaunching the fight: a student from Diné wins the uranium essay competition


By Sandra J. Wright


Charisma Black, along with other students in northern Arizona, took on a challenge by the 4th World Foundation to research the effects of uranium mining on Black Mesa.

Each writer was also asked to suggest actions to limit radiation exposure.

Black was named the winner of the contest in April. On May 13, she accepted the $ 500 scholarship along with a large, hand-woven basket filled with traditional clothing and jewelry.

Tommy Rock, a former student of the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University, presented the award to Black.

Black’s extended family is from the Pinon, Arizona area of ​​the Navajo reservation. But her immediate family moved to Phoenix when she was young.

She returned to northern Arizona about two years ago and is a graduate student of Flagstaff High School. At just 18, Black spent a lot of time thinking about uranium.

“My biggest concern was for family members,” Black said. “Uranium shortened my time with some of them. We have to take care of them. Hope things can change for everyone, not just us Navajo and Hopi.

His awareness of the uranium issue began at the age of 10.

Her mother, Marschelle Honeyestewa, went to college to learn how to fix this and other issues affecting residents of the Four Corners area, Black said.

“I remember my family talked about it, but I didn’t think much about it,” Black said. “There wasn’t a lot of coverage about it. But as I got older and saw that our language was dying, I decided to invest more in my culture.

“Because we lived in Phoenix, we weren’t able to visit our family very often,” Black said.

The time she was able to spend with her family on the reserve was precious to her.

“My grandfather was a coal miner, but he was exposed to uranium and he wasn’t as healthy as he could have been,” she said. “He suffered from diabetes, kidney problems, heart problems and exposure to uranium.”

Little things matter

Black explained that she wasn’t tall on social media, so the “little things” in life meant a lot to her, like seeing her family.

“I follow the daylight of people by being silly, sarcastic,” Black said.

She admitted to being the actress to her family, using her sense of humor to raise family and friends on a daily basis.

Black said it was still difficult for her to accept that she won the essay contest.

“When I think of contests, the best thing I can imagine is counting the jelly beans in a jar,” Black laughs. “But it’s easy to write things that you are passionate about, things you care about, things that affect your family.”

Black’s essay was about the environmental reality of life on Black Mesa.

“Uranium is a big problem because it contaminates the underground aquifer water source of Navajo and Hopi,” Black wrote. “The water that is accessed is not only depleted at a dramatic rate, the water is also undrinkable in areas that only have wells and windmills to drink.

“It has an impact on their health, their livestock, their fields, etc.,” she said. “It is becoming dangerous, uninhabitable and unbearable to live on the lands of Black Mesa. New diseases and illnesses have come to Black Mesa. “

Black concluded that people “need to get involved and learn better ways to keep our land, air and water clean for our people, animals and other species. We must continue to advocate and organize to bring attention to the issue of uranium contamination on Black Mesa for sustainability, healthy communities and future generations.

Basket of items to note

Black was grateful for the cash prize, but the traditional clothing basket is what she talked about.

“My family had to share traditional clothing for ceremonies, graduation ceremonies and weddings,” she said. “These things are hard to find. I am proud to have my own jewelry and badges now. It’s my culture. “

The basket contained traditional clothing, moccasins with wraparound legs, a sash belt, turquoise and silver jewelry, and more.

Somana Tootsie, the director of the 4th World Foundation, was present at the dinner held in honor of Black.

Tootsie said the competition was designed to engage tribal youth in the area to talk about the larger situation of environmental awareness and responsibility.

“It was an opportunity for the young people to have a conversation with their family members about the effects of uranium on their tribes and neighbors,” Tootsie said.

“We received amazing responses and great ideas on what to do to bring more attention to the need to remove or remediate radioactive material left exposed in northern Arizona,” a- she declared. “We wanted to get them interested in science.”

Tootsie stressed that traditional support is important for Indigenous youth. Being able to include clothing and jewelry as part of the prize was very important to her.

“Not all of our children have access to traditional products,” she said.

The basket, she explained, was assembled after the choice of the winning essay. If the winner had been Hopi or another tribe, or a man, the basket would have reflected that winner.

Rock grew up sharing Black’s concerns about environmental issues and, like her, sees the issue as something that affects everyone in the area, not just the native population.

He grew up and continues to live in Monument Valley – its iconic “mittens” rock formations are known to Western movie aficionados around the world, especially those starring John Wayne.

But what most don’t know is the impact of uranium mining on the region.

In the Navajo language, Black’s house is called Aljeto, which means “Moonlight Water”.

Many areas of the reserve have been named after the water, which was once plentiful. Not so much now.

“There was a pond there at one point, and the moon was reflecting off it,” Rock explained. “He was named for it.”

Rock focuses on the future of uranium and radiation, its effects on air and water quality, and its effects on human, animal and plant life.

The exhibition not only Navajo

The exhibition is not limited to the Navajo, Hopi and other tribes of the region. Radiation from nuclear tests that began in World War II claimed victims “downstream” across the country to the east.

He hopes more people are working on the devastating effects of the uranium industry.

“We have a lot of grassroots organizations that deal with uranium,” Rock said. “The University of New Mexico has undertaken a study on exposure to uranium. Modified by these studies, we have better access to health care in the event of exposure.

“The Navajo Nation Environmental Agency has stepped up its efforts,” he said. “We have the Uranium Dine ‘Remediation Advisory Committee, which I sit on.”

The uranium industry has definitely affected drinking water in northern Arizona, and people need to be made aware of that fact, Rock said.

“We all have to face the reality that we need access to clean drinking water,” said Rock. “Not just for us, but for future generations. We need to be informed.

“We live off the earth and uranium has a huge impact on our environment,” he said. “We have to educate the tribes, the chapter houses, the communities and tell them what we are learning, what we are doing.”

Rock is a very busy man. But his involvement in the 4th World Foundation Essay Contest was very important to him.

“I know my time needs to be more useful, but it’s important to me,” Rock explained. “I like to see young people coming to get involved in environmental issues. I like this.

“It’s a way of getting back into the community,” he said. “Not just for us, but for our neighbors. It’s great to see the next generation informed and able to pick up the fight and continue the work that we have been doing.

Sandra J. Wright is press secretary for the 4th World Foundation. She was a freelance writer for the Navajo-Hopi Observer and Tutunveni newspapers.

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