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Native American Tribe Vows To Hold EPA Accountable For Toxic Spill In Colorado


Source: | Original Post Date: August 12, 2015 –


The Navajo Nation declared a state of emergency this week after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed they were responsible for not one, but three million gallons of toxic mining wastewater spilled into the Animas River in Colorado. According to the EPA, the contamination is composed of cadmium, arsenic, lead, aluminum, and copper.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye vowed to hold the EPA fully responsible for its spill, saying “The EPA was right in the middle of the disaster, and we intend to make sure the Navajo Nation recovers every dollar it spends cleaning up this mess and every dollar it loses as a result of injuries to our precious Navajo natural resources.”  

According to Indian Country Today, “Residents along the San Juan River have been warned to stay away from the waterway. It is closed until further notice and should not be used to water crops or feed animals.”

The Navajo Nation has demanded that the EPA provide the affected tribe(s) with water until the river is once again usable. It is currently unclear whether or not the agency will comply with this demand. Civil lawsuits now seem to be the restitution to recover damages from this spill since it is highly unlikely the EPA will pay any upfront fines for the leak, according to a former EPA official.

Navajo Nation President Begaye has “instructed Navajo Nation Department of Justice to take immediate action against the EPA to the fullest extent of the law to protect Navajo families and resources.”

Other damages to the local recreation economy and ecosystem are expected to add up, though the extent of the damages is not known at this time.

This is just the most recent case where Native American land was polluted, not to mention where their basic necessities and rights were violated by the federal government. In many of these instances, little to nothing was done to compensate them for the damage.

The Navajo Nation is no stranger to environmental negligence at the hands of the federal government and greedy corporations, which make their money extracting resources from native lands. For decades, uranium was mined from their land. According to the EPA,

“Today the mines are closed, but a legacy of uranium contamination remains, including over 500 abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) as well as homes and drinking water sources with elevated levels of radiation. Potential health effects include lung cancer from inhalation of radioactive particles, as well as bone cancer and impaired kidney function from exposure to radionuclides in drinking water.”

Despite the EPA’s claims to the contrary, this contamination is yet to be legitimately addressed even though the last uranium mines were shut down in 1986. In fact, the uranium industry is still trying to open new mines in or near Navajo land, despite the fact that the mess remains from previous mining operations. The Navajo Nation is still fighting for it to be cleaned up and to attain compensation for the countless victims who have fallen ill from radiation exposure.

RELATED: Native American Tribes Declare Sovereignty, Break Away from State of Maine

Currently, Native American Indians face another dire threat to their environment and resources from Big Oil interests and their in-pocket politicians, who are pushing for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The controversial pipeline is facing heavy opposition from indigenous groups because it would pass through reservation land in the U.S., extracting oil from prized native areas in Canada. While much is made from both the right and left about the pros and cons of the pipeline, these politicians and interest groups have so far disregarded the Native Americans’ concerns about the project.

RELATED: Native American Tribe Says Building of Keystone Pipeline will be Considered an Act of War

The bottom line is that there are many environmental problems afflicting Native Americans and their land, and much of the time, these issues are neglected and even sustained by the people who cause them. Most times, complaints about these abuses fall on deaf government ears.

The EPA’s toxic spill into the Animas River serves to highlight the continued abuses that indigenous populations in North America have suffered at the hands of governments and moneyed-interests sinceEuropeans first “discovered” the Americas.

Written by Cassius Methyl & Nick Bernabe of

This article (Navajo Leaders Vow to Hold EPA Responsible For Colorado River Spill) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Cassius Methyl, Nick Bernabe and