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Diné College, a Navajo Nation institution, Wins EP...

Diné College, a Navajo Nation institution, Wins EPA Grant to Clean Up Uranium Mines

Diné College–a first-of-its-kind tribally-controlled college in the Navajo Nation–has been awarded a $380,000 EPA grant to study and clean up abandoned uranium mines in the area. The lingering effects of uranium mining on Navajo Nation lands has been a pressing issue for a long time, and giving resources directly to the community could be a great move towards justice.

Could.

First, some background. To fuel the Manhattan Project, the U.S. government mined uranium from Navajo lands. They employed Navajo miners, to whom they downplayed the dangers of radiation, and when the project was finished, they abandoned both the mines and the communities around them. Because uranium-rich dirt mixed with the drinking water and housing materials, everyone was at a higher risk of cancer, and due to a horrifying quirk of workmen’s comp laws, no one could get compensation for radiation poisoning. In the decades since, the EPA has tried to clean these mines up, but they haven’t had a comprehensive enough program to fix it.

And so this most recent grant is good news, but perhaps not good enough. $380,000 is a lot of money, but a 1998 Department of Energy report estimated that a complete cleanup of uranium mines would cost $2.3 billion. Though only a fraction of that is Navajo land, it still seems unlikely that the grant will be enough to definitively solve the problem, to say nothing of providing reparations for the decades of exploitation and mismanagement. Compound that with every federal agency’s uncertain future and there’s more caution than optimism in my cautious optimism.

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In a perfect world, I’d be a professor who teaches poetry using episodes of mediocre sci-fi procedurals, but for now, I’m just a tutor who watches a lot of TV. I got my BA from Kalamazoo College in English with a focus on creative writing, and someday soon I’d like to go back to academia.

Most of my formal teaching training was as a creative writing TA, but I’ve used those skills professionally more to tutor math and write data entry training materials. And though I’d like to focus my work on what I’m really passionate about (which is Netflix binges and outdated video games, mostly), it’s the craft of teaching and writing that keeps me coming back. That’s why I’m excited to be a part of High Faluter: I’m finding that academia doesn’t just stay in academia. And if I can bring crappy midbrow entertainment into academia too, well, all the better. You can find me on Twitter: @StewartFinnegan


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