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Sacred claims and blessings on both sides

Tohatchi, N.M.

Uranium and water don’t mix, except to poison the water. Likewise, religious and cultural issues don’t mix easily with corporate or government considerations when laws and regulations are being defined.

“Water is holy to us,” said Larry King, whose home and grazing land are in the proposed mining area and who opposes the planned mines, “just as baptismal water is holy to the church. That’s how we consider water, a very holy element given to us by our God.”

Religion is on both sides of the HRI mine issue.

The allottees, who favor the mines, in their statement said, “We agree together that the basis of our religion is the knowledge given to us by the Sun, our father, and the Earth, our mother. Non-Indian activists and lawyers do not understand the basis of our religion and that the answer to conflicts is prayer.

“We strongly believe in the project,” the statement continues, “and blessing ceremonies have been performed so there will be no conflict with the Earth or Water.”

“That part of our cultural side is hard to explain in Washington,” said Michele Morris, who opposes the mining. “We use water for our blessing ceremonies, to bless ourselves after a meal or after we’ve cut up cedar.

“If the water’s bad,” said Morris, “people are going to think that their ceremonies and prayers are not going to get delivered. That’s hard to explain to federal agencies that don’t understand or don’t want to understand that this is the start of the cumulative impact on our culture.”

Anna Rondon is one of those who support Navajo President Kelseye Begaye’s determination to declare a “Nuclear-Free Navajo,” a declaration thwarted three times by Navajo Council indecision. A twice-delayed Navajo Council vote due in October was delayed to December.

Many of the council delegates, said Rondon, “are mentally challenged on sovereignty. The mining lobbyists are saying that a Navajo nuclear-free zone would shut down the coal mine because there’s radiation coming out of it; that we would stop x-rays and nuclear medicines. That’s like saying a drug-free zone means we’d have no more aspirin on the reservation,” she said.

Before coming to this area, Maryknoll Sr. Rose Marie Cecchini spent three decades in Asia -- in the Philippines, where she witnessed depradations against the indigenous peoples; in Nepal, where she came to understand yet another approach to spirituality and folk religion; and 25 years in Japan where she learned new lessons in reconciliation as she interviewed Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors.

“In all three places,” she said, “the land was sacred, ancestral, the spirituality concerned with creation.” It is on behalf of that spirituality, and in opposition to uranium and its uses, she said, that the Interfaith Stewards of Creation was founded. Its intent, she said, is to “help amplify” the indigenous voice by calling the national and international networks of communities of faith to assist and act. (The New Mexico Catholic bishops this year issued a strong environmental pastoral letter.)

Cecchini is clear as to why she’s involved in Crownpoint-Church Rock.

“Reconciliation is not free. It comes at a cost,” she said. When she asked Japanese atomic bomb survivors for forgiveness, she said, “they accepted [my request] but added, ‘Now you must work with all your mind, heart and soul for peace in our world.’ It was a reconciliation,” said Cecchini, “that mandated of me a total commitment to the non-nuclear world they envisioned.”

National Catholic Reporter, November 19, 1999