Imagine your village’s water supply was about to be contaminated by nuclear waste from a nearby dump and the federal government simply offered to put a fence around it. If you were the Hopi Nation, you’d sue.
In the 1950s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs created an unlined, unrestricted dump a few miles from a uranium mill on Navajo and Hopi land. Everything from uranium tailings to medical waste has been dumped there over the decades. The dump was closed – covered over with sand and dirt – in 1997 and the Hopi and Navajo people have been fighting for a cleanup ever since.
Studies have confirmed that groundwater near the dump contains levels of uranium, arsenic, chromium and more that far exceed what is considered safe. What’s the “safe” level of uranium, anyway? And after years of watching government agencies hem and haw over the issues (yes, even offering to simply build a fence around the dump), the Hopi Nation is fed up. They plan to take serious legal action.
And they’re not just suing as a matter of principle, but because a uranium-contaminated water plume is headed directly for the Hopi water supply. Drinking water is a precious commodity, especially in the Arizonan high desert, and it was governmental mismanagement that led to the problem in the first place.
It’s hard to believe that anyone could sue the government itself and succeed, but with President Obama’s more sensitive leadership, maybe this major law suit (which includes the Department of Energy, Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency) will make the United States government pay better attention to the real and ongoing saga of Native American affairs.