Indigenous Claims and Uranium Mining on Mount Taylor, New Mexico, USA

Susanne Berthier-Foglar,

Université de Savoie

While Indigenous claims are not a new field of investigations, the claims themselves carry more weight in settler colonies such as the United States where specific laws offer protection to the Indigenous minority. However, conflicting interests, and conflicting claims, render decision-making a difficult affair. Mount Taylor, New Mexico, is a case in point exhibiting all the facets of contemporary Indigenous claims. Moreover, with President Obama’s announced ratification of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the United States of America, the field is set to become even more complex.

Mount Taylor with an elevation of 3,446 meters is an extinct cone shaped volcano, north of Grants, New Mexico, along I-40. It is a distinctive feature as the mountain stands alone and dominates the surrounding high plateau. As is common for Southwestern mountains, the vegetation changes on their flanks, from the highdesert dryland at its base, to ponderosa and juniper towards the top. With their increased rainfall, at least when compared to the surrounding plateau, mountains offer resources in game and plants.

Several tribes claim the area, and can place their ancestors on and around Mount Taylor in the historic and prehistoric past. The descendants of the Spanish colonizers have settled several locations and, since 1706, when Albuquerque was founded, the city has grown to become a sprawling multicultural metropolis along the Rio Grande valley, setting the stage for conflicting claims and interests. Several high profile cases of land use pitting mainstream American interests against tribal interests have occurred in the region: Sandia Pueblo’s claim over the West flank of Sandia Mountain in Albuquerque, and tribal claims to prevent the extension of the ski area on the San Francisco Mountains, north of Flagstaff, Arizona. Mountains are a precious asset, one worth fighting for. In the case of Mount Taylor, the fight has an ethnic twist with Hispanics siding with the mining companies against the tribes.

Tribal presence and Spanish occupation

More than any other region in the United States, the Southwest bears the mark of pre-Colombian native cultures. Colonized by Spain in 1598, ruled by Mexico after independence in 1821, and transferred to the United States through the “Mexican” war in 1846, and the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the Southwest remained largely empty until the twentieth century. The displacement of the tribes was minimal, at least when compared to geographic areas where the authorities organized a mass exodus to Indian Country. In New Mexico, tribes were reorganized under the colonization of Spain, mainly to place them in more manageable locations, to enable their access to Christianizing missions, and to facilitate their defense against outside intrusion (Simmons 178-93). Colonizing efforts were centered on alliances, and several tribes sided with the colonizer in exchange for military protection against their enemies (Jones Jr. 33-68). Historians believe that this was one of the reasons the Pueblos accepted the Spanish presence, to ward off recently arrived bands of Athapascans (Gutierrez, 1991: 55). Later, in the 1860s, under American rule, the Navajos were briefly forced into deportation to the camp of Bosque Redondo, in the Eastern part of New Mexico. They were however allowed back to their homeland in 1868, after 4 years of captivity. Thus, the Indigenous peoples, despite local displacement, still live within – or close to – their ancestral homelands. Their creation stories linking them to visible geographic features are an important element when it comes to prove their relationship with the land.

For the surrounding tribes, Mount Taylor functions as a geographic marker, and for some as a cardinal mountain. The Navajo, the largest tribe in the United States, consider Mount Taylor as one of the mountains defining Dinetah, their homeland. Under the name of Tsoodził (Turquoise Mountain), it is the mountain of the South. The Navajo creation story tells that it has been built by First Man and First Woman after the model present in their previous world, i.e. the 4th. The mythological Tsoodził is fastened to the earth with a great stone knife, decorated with turquoise, with dark mist, with she-rain, the soft rain that moistens the ground. It is also the home of wild animals and – on its summit – a dish of turquoise with two bluebird eggs is to be found (Matthews 78-79). –

Today, the mountain is still known by its Anglo-Saxon name honoring President Zachary Taylor – “Old Rough and Ready” – whose last military engagement was as a General in the Mexican-American war which led to the transfer of the present-day Southwest to the United States. While the Navajo, with a full-time lobbyist in Washington, represent an overwhelming presence in the area, three smaller Pueblo tribes, Acoma, Laguna and Zuni, are also located in the vicinity. All in all, almost thirty tribes consider Mount Taylor a sacred location. There is no single name by which it is known to Indigenous peoples – it is Kaweshtima for the Acoma, Tsibina for the Laguna, Dewankwin Kyaba:chu Yalanne for the Zuni, Tsiipiya for the Hopi and Tsoodził for the Navajo – while the Spanish colonizers named it Cebolleta (Onion) in the 17th century. Thus the Anglo-Saxon name stayed, and no effort was made to revert to an original name as was the case with Mt McKinley, now Denali.

For mainstream America, the mythology surrounding Mount Taylor is largely Navajo and is known because the tribe became the focus of intense ethnographic efforts in the late 19th-early 20th century at a time the Pueblos had become secretive to protect themselves against the prying intrusion of outsiders into their ceremonial life. The Navajos had not been organized in a mission system; only a few had been established under Spanish rule, in the later period of occupation, and only on the outskirts of land the Navajo occupied. Thus, the Navajo did not bear the full brunt of religious persecution and, as a corollary, did not feel the need to hide their ceremonies and were more open to scrutiny by curious newcomers. Washington Matthews, an army surgeon turned ethnographer is our prime source for the stories associated with Mount Taylor, stories he was able to gather in the last decades of the 19th century during ceremonies he freely attended. From Matthews and later followers, we know that Mount Taylor, as a cardinal mountain, has an inner anthropomorphic form with a “wind soul” allowing it to breathe (Wyman 2, 24).


While humanizing mountains, or other geographic and cosmic features, is typical of Navajo mythology, it has an uncanny appeal for mainstream conservationists whose approach of nature is at times emotional (Krech III). While the reference to Mother Earth, a concept freely adapted from Native mythology, has had its heydays in the last decades of the 20th century, it is still implicitly present in the minds of grassroots conservationists, especially in conjunction with large scale destruction as is the case in open pit mining. The link between conservationists and tribal activists is mainly due to a conceptual relationship between the latter’s sacred geography and former’s wish to establish a human relationship with Nature (Albanese 21-25, 155).

The Navajos’ mythological – and historic – claim on Mount Taylor is a strong case. However, the Navajo were not the first Indigenous group – now present in the area – to have occupied the region around the mountain. When the Spanish Captain Juan de Coronado entered New Mexico in 1540, he encountered sedentary Pueblo tribes as well as small bands of semi-nomadic peoples whose extent is not known. It is believed that they were in a state of transition from hunters-gatherers to agriculturalists (Spicer 210). By the early 1600s, they practiced agriculture (Locke 8-10) and the Franciscan friar Zárate Salmerón named them Apaches de Nabaju in 1626 (de Zárate Salmerón 94). Apaches and Navajos – both Athapascans – were not differentiated in the early 1600s and were considered a single group, also named Querechos, i.e. nomads. The Querechos repeatedly attacked outlying pueblos (Simmons 178) and, despite Spanish fascination for the tent cities that could be moved overnight (de Benavides 57-78), they were never extensively converted (Spicer 211).

Historians have wondered whether the late-coming Navajos have coexisted peacefully with the Pueblos. This was probably the case at first, but when pressure on the resources increased, the relationship between Apaches/Navajos and Pueblos deteriorated (ibid.). Gutierrez claims that the warlike relationship between predatory Apaches/Navajos and Pueblos explains why Pueblos sought alliance with Spaniards at the time of their entrada (Gutierrez, 1991: 55). The arrival of the Spaniards coincided with times of better rainfall and crops, and the Franciscan friars with their knowledge of agriculture, technology, and medicine appeared as powerful ceremonial chiefs who were also capable of defending the Pueblos against the new intruders (Weber 3-18) . When the Franciscans’ power seemed to fail, in the 1670s, due a change in climate and more severe droughts, the Pueblos became disenchanted with the Spanish occupiers, thus leading to a regional rebellion (ibid. 10-11). Despite a situation of past intertribal warfare, it is customary, today, to consider the Indigenous as a cohesive group with collective rights and not as subgroups in a situation where one group would have precedence over another (Bowen 12-16).

Ethnic alliances are rendered more complex in a situation where intermarriage has occurred, blurring the genetic definition of individuals. After 80 year of colonial presence, the Pueblos rebelled and threw off the yoke of domination. In households of mixed ethnicity, seemingly acculturated Indians chose the Pueblo side, while others followed the Spaniards as they fled the territory. It happened that brothers became separated by ethnic lines and the Spanish commanders issued orders forbidding their soldiers of Pueblo ancestry to use in military action any other language than Castilian (Berthier-Foglar 163-164).

When the country was re-conquered in 1692 by De Vargas, new alliances were forged and populations reorganized in accordance with strategic affinities. Pueblos on the Northwestern side of Pueblo territory – Jemez and the Tewas – had a tendency to side with the Navajos, seeking refuge with the neighboring tribe when they rejected Spanish domination (Spicer 163-166). Among the Eastern Navajo, intermarriage with Pueblos occurred, a major clan was founded – the Coyote Pass Clan – composed of Jemez women and their descendants (ibid. 212). A rift occurred among the Navajo during a raiding period in 1706-1716, when several clans of the Eastern Navajos developed a tradition of raiding Spanish settlements, while others, less numerous sought to remain peaceful. The peaceful clans had moved South due to Ute depredations and settled near Laguna and Acoma, in the Mount Taylor area. Franciscan missions were established at Cebolleta and Encinal and the Navajos who came to the missions were soon called Enemy Navajo by the rest of the tribe(ibid.). Moreover, Spanish settlers occupied the eastern flank of Mount Taylor under the land grant system.

Resources: Land and Minerals

Land was the main resource in New Mexico at the time of Spanish colonization. When the Americans conquered Mexico, the “All Mexico” option was discarded in favor of a reduced territorial conquest with a straight border between Texas and the Southern border of Alta California. New Mexico – which included the present-day state of Arizona – was thus part of the conquered territory. However, it had no visible resources, no rich farms as was the case in California, and no wealthy mines. Incidentally, this was one of the reasons why Baja California was left to Mexico as it was deemed unsuitable for any type of development (Merk 107).

Hunger for resources is the main reason behind any territorial conquest, and, as it often happened in New Mexican history, later conquerors believed that a hidden resource may have been overlooked. The staged Dinetah gold rush was another episode in the same vein. During the Civil War, when the New Mexican battles were over, Brigadier General Carleton, stationed in the Rio Grande Valley, imagined gold to be found in the land of the Navajos. And, since he had missed the gold rush in California, he endeavored to deport the tribe to Bosque Redondo, in the Eastern part of New Mexico, to find the mineral riches he imagined existed. Since his effort proved fruitless, the Navajos were allowed to return home (Bailey).

Urban expansion in the Rio Grande valley started mainly after WW2 and mineral wealth was eventually found on the ancient homeland of the Navajos and neighboring Pueblos. It started on a small scale with radium, a radioactive rare earth, discovered in 1898, that came to be mined industrially, albeit in small quantities around Grants, New Mexico, around 1900 (McLemore). The importance of uranium, often occurring in conjunction with radium, became apparent with the completion of the Manhattan Project and the development of the atom bomb in Los Alamos located not too far from Grants, in Northern New Mexico. Between 1948 and 2002, Grants – thanks to its “uranium belt” – became the uranium capital of the United States of America [1], accounting for more than 30% of the country’s total production, and 97% of New Mexico’s production (Limerick 23).

Before 1971, uranium mining was not strictly regulated and the first decades of radiation disease were shrouded in secrecy. However, when it appeared that the populations at risk were largely composed of unskilled workers from poverty-stricken areas with no other job options, and that they also came from Indigenous communities, Native American activists Ward Churchill and Winona LaDuke presented radiation disease as a side effect of colonialism and coined the phrase “radioactive colonialism” (Churchill and La Duke 241-66).

Uranium mines dot the New Mexican countryside, and especially its Western part and quantitative research has started in 2009. Mapping the mines is a problem in itself. More than 259 abandoned mines have reported production in the state, while 137 have had no cleanup after closing down. They range in size from so-called “dogholes” to large scale operations such as the Jackpile, boasting to have been, in its heyday, the largest open-pit uranium mine in the world. In addition, over 400 sites have had “significant exploration.” While they are not all on Indian land, the fact that they are in poor rural areas makes mapping the diseases associated with uranium mines a difficult task as some of the medical problems, such as diabetes and kidney failure are associated with poverty among Native American and Hispanic minorities (Childress). To date, the federal government has spent more than US$ 7 billion compensating people with radiation sickness, and a move to cover more workers, and more diseases, such as birth defects in the children conceived by former uranium workers is underway (Rice).

Uranium and radiation sickness have made their way into Native American literature of the Southwest. In 1977, Laguna author Leslie Marmon Silko published Ceremony, a novel about the contact zone between Indigenous and mainstream cultures, where witchery is linked to an old uranium mine(Silko 243-44) and where Hiroshima and Gallup are united in final ceremony where deadly radiation is used in a landart-sized sandpainting (ibid. 252). In Starting at the Bottom, Acoma poet and former miner, Simon Ortiz, laments the fact that the men of his tribe and of neighboring Laguna are always stuck in the deepest level of the mine (Ortiz 129).

Tony Hillerman, an “Anglo” author from Albuquerque, who was named “Friend of the Diné” by the Navajo Nation for his realistic descriptions of life on the reservation, published People of Darkness in 1980. Uranium mines and radiation disease are part of a plot where greed and mining are intertwined (Hillerman). Hard hit by the effects of several mining operations on and around the reservation, the Navajo Nation took action in 2005 and passed legislation to outlaw uranium mining and processing on its land while requesting full monetary compensation for past damages (Diné Natural Resources Protection Act). Then President of the Navajo Nation, Joe Shirley Jr. explains that his peoples’ health has been adversely affected by uranium mining operations and he refuses to consider economic hardships as an excuse for resuming them. He also points out that Navajo workers were often refused compensation because they could not provide their date of birth, or because they were listed as “smokers” when the smoking was in fact ceremonial herbs for specific rituals (Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice-President).

While the protective legislation passed by the Navajo Nation, applies only to tribal land, Navajos living on the Grants Uranium Belt, where tribal land is interspersed with private land and Spanish land grants, have tried to push their own agenda and have organized under ENDAUM (Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium) to protest against the operation of the Crownpoint mines located on land over which they have no jurisdiction.

Mount Taylor as a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP)

Native American tribes claim a long-term occupation of the Mount Taylor area, a claim that may be mitigated – at least under federal legislation – by several centuries of Spanish colonial occupation. In the face of renewed interest in uranium mining in the first decade of the 21st century, the Indian Nations requested the designation of Mount Taylor as a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP).

In their comprehensive guide to TCPs, the anthropologist/archaeologist team Patricia Parker and Thomas F. King use the term “culture” in the anthropological sense, encompassing “traditions, beliefs, practices, lifeways, arts, crafts, and social institutions of any community,” i.e. elements, including places, that give meaning and cohesiveness to a group or subgroup (Parker and King 1). The concept of TCP arose in the last decades of the 20th century when it appeared necessary to protect sites endowed with an intangible cultural value, i.e. with qualities that did not necessarily fall into the category of extraordinary physical features (“natural wonders”) or rare ecosystems that could claim protection under the National Park System. TCPs are thus designated areas on public land where use by a cohesive group of people is documented over a period of time. Reflecting the way history is considered in the United States, the duration of documented use worth preserving has been set at 50 years. It means that documented and on-going family memory linked to a particular place over three generations may be considered in the designation of a TCP. While the TCP designation gives voice to “people’s history,” a trend started in the 1970s in the wake of the Civil Rights movement and the social upheaval of the time, it also tends to confuse century-long traditions and History with anecdotic history (Zinn).

The request to protect Mt Taylor as a TCP was thus dangerous as non-indigenous groups are able to claim continued use of the mountain over a 50-year period. The prime example for the protection of recent “history” is the Camp IV affair in Yosemite where the nostalgic users of a National Park Campground, home to the early climbers of the valley, was scheduled to be built over. Lobbying efforts by Californian activists, with affiliations and sympathies with the climbing scene, led to the protection of a “dusty little campground” with “historic” significance (Yosemite NPS).

In the case of Mount Taylor, the traditional significance of the area for regional tribes is out of proportion with a 50-year old casual use claim. To prove the weight of their claims, five tribes – Acoma, Hopi, Laguna, Zuni, and Navajo – have invested in anthropological case studies to back up their historic and prehistoric use of the area in order to request the nomination of Mount Taylor on the State Register of Historic Places. It is surprising to notice that the Hopi and Pueblo tribes (Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni are Pueblo), famous for their secrecy policies, and their refusal to share details about their belief system with the outside world, have adopted an unusual open stance in the registration process.

In the 20th century, Pueblo refusal to see inside information published led to attacks that were occasionally violent. The main ethnographer working on the Pueblos, Elsie Clews Parsons knew the dangers her informant had to face, and when she published her monograph on Taos Pueblo, she was careful to protect Antony Luhan, her Taos friend in the introductory words – a friend “who told me nothing about the pueblo and who will never tell any white person anything his people would not have him tell, which is nothing – and she also asked her publisher not to sell the book in the Southwest. Despite the preventive measure, a copy of the book found its way to the pueblo and the author’s putative informants were tracked down possibly killed (Zumwalt 241, 247-8). In the late 1960s, Pueblos were known for their destructive raids on Parson’s major work, Pueblo Indian Religion, in Southwestern libraries as a tactic of cultural preservation (Gutierrez, 1996: v-xix). The two volumes of the book totaling 1275 pages have since been reprinted.

In the late 1970s, protective legislation was passed in favor of Native American religions (AIRFA), however it implied that tribes seeking protection of, or access to specific sites, had to divulge information on beliefs and ceremonialism. Tribes were torn between the wish to protect a sacred place and the need for secrecy. It seemed that their wishes were granted in 1996, when President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 13007 on Indian sacred sites, allowing the tribes to request protection for land managed by a Federal agency while “maintain[ing] the confidentiality of sacred sites” (Clinton 1).

Over a decade later, with economic recession hitting the Hispanic population in rural areas on the flanks of Mount Taylor, with latent inter-ethnic conflict where the Hispanics consider the Indians a privileged minority, it seems more difficult for the tribes to claim sacredness without “hard” evidence. To prove their willingness to inform about their relationship with Mount Taylor, the tribes announce, in the documents submitted to the New Mexican Cultural Review Committee, that they are “are willing to talk about their relationships with the Mountain in uncomfortable detail in support of the nomination” (Application for Registration 12.5).

It is ironical that the Pueblos, and more specifically Laguna Pueblo, who have a longstanding feud with prying and predatory anthropologists, are using Elsie Clews Parsons to evidence ceremonial use of a shrine on Mount Taylor by War Captains and the Fire cheani in the first decades of the 20th century. The TCP application documents illustrate the painful choices the Pueblos have to make when debating sacredness/secrecy issues. The Laguna describe a shrine located near the summit of Mount Taylor while at the same time stating that their spiritual places have to be kept secret as “exposing their locations to non-Indians threatens their physical and spiritual integrity” (ibid. 12.54). One remembers that almost a century earlier Parsons and Boas, who came specifically to Laguna for the summer solstice ceremony, were confined in their houses with a guard posted to prevent their escape (Zumwalt 236-7).

Mount Taylor, as an essential feature for the surrounding tribes, exemplifies the concept of spiritual and physical relationships between peoples and place. Benedict and Hudson argue that “landscape, provides guidance to people in ways that motivate, organize, and structure how they live their everyday lives as members of their communities” (Application for Registration 12.1). Thus, landscapes can be considered as a “cultural phenomenon”(ibid. 12.3) within a “dynamic cultural process entailing interaction between relatively static representations of geographical space and dynamic cultural and social factors that underlie the construction of these representations” (ibid. 12.3-4). Each surrounding tribe has constructed a “cognitive map” which includes Mount Taylor in a web of relationships and beliefs. The landscape thus becomes “an historical text” (ibid. 12.4) explaining the origins and obligations of the peoples. Moreover, mingling ecology and religion, Gregory Cajete, a Tewa scholar from Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, invented the phrase “spiritual ecology” to describe the relationship between people and place which includes projecting an anima on “entities, phenomena and places in their natural environment, creating a sense of ensoulment” (ibid. 12.10-11).

In June 2008, taking into account, the arguments of the tribes, the National Trust for Historic Preservation supported Mount Taylor’s emergency listing in the State Register of Cultural Properties. In June 2009, the mountain was permanently listed, a move that was also favored by mainstream conservationists. Although the full implications of the listing were uncertain – it was unclear how much protection designation as a TCP would afford – the decision was seen as highly favorable to Indian interests. In order to defuse a potentially explosive situation, Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, announced that placing Mount Taylor on the TCP Register would not prevent “traditional” uses of the area, including motorized recreation and grazing. The only protection the TCP afforded was a right for the tribes to be informed of any development to take place on public land. To show their goodwill, the tribes had specifically excluded private land from the action.

The process leading to the listing of Mount Taylor as a TCP underlines the rift in New Mexican society when it comes to land issues. Despite the scant protection afforded by the designation as a TCP, non-Indian locals, mainly the members of the Spanish land-grant communities whose ancestors arrived 200 years ago, felt slighted. Tim Scarantino, a former ACLU lawyer, believes that the rights of the general public have been overlooked in favor of those of Native Americans and that “Mount Taylor’s public lands are owned equally by all of us”, thus voicing the typical “equal treatment under the law” opinion without concern for the specific Rights of the Indigenous Peoples. Moreover, he claims that mining is a traditional activity on Mount Taylor. He uses three arguments; first, that collecting minerals, as done by the tribes, is a mining activity, and that mining is thus a tradition, second, that coalmining in the area dates back to the 19th century, and, third, and this is an insidious barb aimed at Indians, that “coal today generates half the electricity in New Mexico’s Indian casinos.” Through Scarantino’s arguments the tribes are placed in the mainstream with ceremonial mineral collecting on the same footing as mining, and their economies, especially their casinos which, after all, target a mainstream public, considered from the point of view of their energy needs provided by extractive industries. However, Scarantino stops short of mentioning a possible TCP listing for the uranium culture in the Grants area although there is ample evidence of the mineral’s importance in the local history and economy (Scarantino 1).

The main economic issue in rural North-Western New Mexico is poverty. Without poverty, and the absence of options, there might not be a discussion about opening/reopening the mines. On the surface, one witnesses the typical Western reaction of refusing public intrusion in private affairs (Limerick 17-8) with the Cibola County Commissioners voting 4-1 on April 28, 2008, against listing the mountain as a TCP. However arguments about local sovereignty could have been triggered by boastful and often inappropriate voices such as Sierra Club members clamoring that placing Mount Taylor on the TCP Register would delay exploratory drilling (Scarantino).

It seems that the two major groups with traditional ties, the Indians and the Hispanics – at least if one does not consider the long term uranium miners – skirt around the issue of Indigenousness. A definition was never satisfactorily upheld after two decades of discussions by the UN’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations. Among the possible criteria for indigenousness, some almost apply to the descendants of the Spanish settlers who do form a group with a distinct culture, and who definitely had to submit to the dominant culture of the Anglo-Saxons. However, they were not the first group to settle the region as they had themselves displaced the local Indians, but they claim their longstanding presence, and their miscegenation with the Native Americans entitles them to be considered indigenous (Tijerina 224). [2] Confirming this argument, the long standing land grant issue pits Indians against Hispanics in New Mexico. In 1998, the debate was officially reopened by the Guadalupe-Hidalgo Treaty Land Claims Act providing for an inquiry into the Hispanic land grants in NM and their heirs. While 75% of the legal papers documenting the colonial land grants had been lost, the memory has survived. Hispanic land grants are areas granted by the King of Spain to settler communities for their collective use. Their legal status is not fundamentally different from land granted to the Pueblos, an analogy often used by the descendants of the Hispanic settlers. Land grants are held in common and managed by a village or a group of families with areas set aside for agriculture, for pasture, or for timber harvesting. With the creation of National Forests in 1906, Spanish land grants were often integrated into the National Forests because they were deemed public land, mistaking their identity as land held in common by an identified group of peoples.

In the context of designating Mount Taylor as the TCP of the Indian communities, the Hispanics felt left out and hate crimes started to occur, reminiscent of the events in Selma, Alabama during the civil Rights decade, and in Farmington, New Mexico, in the second half of the 20th century. In the Mount Taylor case, the apparent reason was rage against a decision deemed pro-Indian and three days after the listing, in June 2009, five Navajo men were brutally beaten in Grants, by “Mexicans” and one has been heard saying: “You got Mount Taylor, now you’re mine” (Paskus). An appeal of the listing was filed by local land owners on a technical ground. Never had so large a TCP been listed and the implications of the listing were unclear. It was argued that the protected area was too large to be reasonably inspected and maintained. On these grounds, the designation of Mount Taylor as a TCP was rescinded by the Fifth Judicial District Court. Presiding Judge William Shoobridge stated that the designation as TCP “is overboard and arbitrary.” Moreover, it was argued that the Cultural Property Review Committee “did not provide personal notice to mineral estate property owners as required by law,” and the TCP included land grant territory claimed by the Cebolleta Land Grant heirs (Jaramillo).

Meanwhile, the debate about the real cost of mines and the nuclear industry continues. The example of Montana, hard-hit by the cost of restoring the landscape after the mining companies left tailings leaching toxic waste, shows that post-production cleanup has to be included in the overall economic evaluation. In the case of New Mexico, mining would represent only a short term benefit while the taxpayers would have to face a long term loss (Power). The long half-lives of radioactive resources, i.e. the time required for the source to fall to half of its initial radioactivity, add to the cost of environmental cleanup.[3]

While no uranium mining is yet taking place in the Mount Taylor area, mining corporations have staked their claims and taken up positions to move in. [4]The future of uranium mining is conditioned by the energy market, as well by public perception of the atomic danger which tends to be linked to news of failures of nuclear power plants. Every accident – Three Mile Island, Tchernobyl, and lately Fukushima – has temporarily halted the development of nuclear plants. However, raising demands – by traditional energy consumers who do not want to reduce their consumption, or emerging countries wishing to join the ranks of energy consuming countries – will inevitably raise uranium prices and the demand to open/reopen the Mount Taylor mines.

The permits under consideration cover the whole gamut of uranium operations, underground-, strip, and leach-mines, as well as on- and off-site ore processing and tailing storage. Most of the projects are located in Cibola County, centered on Mount Taylor, while a few others (Ambrosia Lake) are in McKinley County, on the North of the mountain, or in Sandoval County to the East toward Albuquerque (the Juan Tafoya area.) All of these areas have a history of Indigenous and, for some, of Hispanic presence. While the uranium market is only one of the factors in the discussion about the Mount Taylor area mines, the great unknown is how the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will be taken into account. This will in turn launch a debate about the Indigenousness of Hispanics and the rights of the American mainstream.

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[1] 340 million pounds of uranium were extracted from the Grants Uranium Belt from 1948-2002. McLemore.back to text

[2] Hispanic activist Tijerina coined the term Indohispano in the 1960s to describe the New Mexican Hispanic population. Reies Lopez Tijerina. They Called Me ‘King Tiger’: My Struggle for the Land and Our Rights. Trans. José A. Gutiérrez, Houston, Texas: Arte Publico Press, 2000. p. 224. back to text

[3] The half-life of uranium-238 is about 4.47 billion years and that of uranium-235 is 704 million years, some compounds have shorter half-lives. Cleanup in this case means long-term storage. back to text

[4] Among the companies considering starting mining operations in the Mount Taylor area: Laramide Resources (USA) Inc. at La Jara Mesa, Uranium Energy Corporation (UEC) at Grants Ridge, Neutron Energy Inc. (NEI) at Juan Tafoya, Rio Grande Resources Corp at Grants Mineral District, Strathmore Minerals Corp at Roca Honda and Church Rock, NZU Inc. at Hosta Butte, Rio Algom Mining, LLC at Ambrosia Lake. back to text

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