Charmaine White Face Receives Nuclear-Free Future Resistance Award

The Nuclear-Free Future Awards are given to honor individuals, organizations and communities for their outstanding commitment towards creating a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons and atomic energy. This year, the Resistance Award is being given to Charmaine White Face, a biologist, author and political commentator.

White Face is the founder and coordinator of Defenders of the Black Hills, which monitors abandoned uranium mines on sacred Lakota Lands, seeks the remediation of hazardous waste ponds that contaminate the region with high levels of radium, arsenic, lead and iron and opposes in-situ leach uranium mining. The Defenders of the Black Hills are a group of volunteers without racial or tribal boundaries, which formed five years ago. Their core message is that all peoples are threatened by nuclear activities.

The Black Hills run through South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. They are the traditional homeland of the Great Sioux Nation. In 1851 and 1868, the United States government signed treaties awarding the Great Sioux Nation custody of the land, however, they seized this land once resources were discovered there - first gold, and then uranium. These mining activities, along with fallout from nuclear testing in Nevada and radiation exposure from missile silos, which littered the region, have had a great impact on the health of the people.

Currently, there are more than 1,000 abandoned open pit uranium mines and prospects. These sites are polluting the rivers with their runoff. The Defenders have detected uranium in a pipeline more than 200 miles from the Missouri River, which shows that uranium is being carried in the pipeline.

The Minuteman missile silos and radar stations that were built all over the region in the 1950s and 1960s were possibly powered by small uranium power plants called submarines. It is unknown what happened to these and their wastes.

The radioactive fallout from the above ground detonations of nuclear bombs in Nevada in the 1950s and 60s fell on South Dakota as well, causing thyroid and other cancers, primarily to those people who were children at that time.

Despite the harm caused by past mining activities, uranium-mining development continues in the form of in-situ leach mining. There are already 4,000 exploration holes in the Black Hills and 3,000 in western Wyoming. The Defenders of the Black Hills are working to address these issues through public education campaigns, the media, elected officials and regulatory agencies.

Hosted by Salzburg, Austria, the 10th Annual Nuclear Free Future Awards ceremony will take place there this week. Last year, the Award ceremony took place at the Indigenous World Uranium Summit in Window Rock, Arizona.

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