In the News May 29
United States Crimes Against the People
The Shoshone “The Most Bombed Nation on Earth”
No other nation on earth has had nuclear and other bombs tested on their lands as extensively and deliberately as the Shoshone Nation in the United States. This Indigenous people who number close to 40,000, live in small bands in a total of 104,000 square kilometres of territory between Death Valley in the Mojave Desert in Eastern California and Yellowstone Park in Wyoming. They have been living on their traditional lands for more than 10,000 years. As a consequence of these nuclear weapons tests in the Western Shoshone territory which the U.S. has called the Nevada Proving Grounds and now the Nevada National Security Site, the lands and the natural environment of the Shoshone have been severely contaminated and many hundreds of members of the Nation have become ill and have died of various types of cancers and other illnesses. The livelihoods of the Nation’s people have been wrecked as well.
The 928 tests conducted there since 1951, one hundred in the atmosphere and more than 800 underground, have resulted in a nuclear fallout of some 620 kilotons, compared to 13 kilotons of fallout when the U.S. bombed Hiroshima in 1945.
Ian Zabarte, Principal Man of the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation, has been leading a campaign to bring to light what he calls the “ethnic cleansing” of his people, to put a stop to the use of Shoshone lands as testing grounds for nuclear weapons, and to demand compensation, amongst other things. He calls the Shoshone Nation “The Most Bombed Nation on Earth.” Speaking to the press earlier this year he said, “The United States doesn’t want to study our own adverse health consequences. [It] would be no different to Nazi Germany studying the health consequences of their testing on Jewish people. That is so far from right. We have to do it ourselves and we need help.”
The Shoshone have no medical equipment or computer databases to track those among their people they suspect have become ill because of the radioactive fallout from these tests. Thus, deaths from suspicious conditions are generally not recorded.
From 1962, the nuclear tests have only been conducted underground but that has not guaranteed the safety of the Indigenous or other people in the area. In April 1986, the Mighty Oak nuclear incident took place which caused U.S.$32 million in damage to equipment. This was kept secret and the blame was laid on the Russians with the claim, months later, that the radiation fallout affecting the U.S. and other countries was the result of the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine.
There’s also the example of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, first planned in 1987 and later approved by the Obama administration, which the Shoshone have stalled through their political organizing and the support of their allies. This was a project intended to store high-level radioactive waste. Speaking before the White House Environmental Justice Council on January 27, Ian Zabarte pointed out:
“In 1990, the Department of Energy created ‘cultural triage’ used in the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project defined as, ‘the forced choice decision-making by an ethnic group to a development project’ claiming Indians were involved in Yucca Mountain development. Cultural triage features are it is forced upon ethnic Native Americans for development. Federally recognized Indian tribes are deemed by the U.S. Supreme Court as incompetents under the superintendence of the Secretary of the Interior and therefore cannot consent. It is the U.S. that is wholly responsible for the outcomes. The systematic use of cultural triage is genocide.
“Origin is important. Shoshone individuals must be followed for health consequences. We need collaborative research funding, monitoring, surveillance and registries for Shoshone down-winders affected by radiation from nuclear weapons. We need radiation exposure compensation re-authorization (RECA). We need the President to create a Shoshone homeland under Article 6 of the Treaty of Ruby Valley. All federal actions must be required to prove ownership of federally funded project sites.”
In this way Zabarte, along with members of the Shoshone people and their allies are battling the U.S. racist and colonial state to assert their title and hereditary rights, and affirming their right to be as a people.
1. In 1996, the late Dr. Rosalie Bertell, well-known scientist and anti-nuclear weapons activist based in Toronto writing on the High Frequency Active Auroral Research (HAARP) Program of the U.S. military stated: “In April 1986, just before the Chernobyl disaster, the U.S. had a failed hydrogen test at the Nevada Test Site called Mighty Oaks. This test, conducted far underground, consisted of a hydrogen bomb explosion in one chamber, with a leaded steel door to the chamber, two metres thick, closing within milliseconds of the blast. The door was to allow only the first radioactive beam to escape into the ‘control room’ in which expensive instrumentation was located. The radiation was to be captured as a weapon beam. The door failed to close as quickly as planned, causing the radioactive gases and debris to fill the control room, destroying millions of dollars’ worth of equipment. The experiment was part of a program to develop X-ray and particle beam weapons. The radioactive releases from Mighty Oaks were vented, under a ‘licensed venting,’ and were likely responsible for many of the North American nuclear fallout reports in May 1986, which were attributed to the Chernobyl disaster.”
2. The Treaty of Ruby Valley was signed between the Shoshone and the U.S. government in 1863. In exchange for $5,000 per annum payable in cattle and other goods, the U.S. was permitted to build railways, telegraph and postal offices and to mine for minerals in Shoshone lands. Following World War II, the U.S. military and private interests began the illegal encroachments and theft of the lands of the Shoshone which the latter did not surrender by the terms of the Treaty.
(With files from Native America blogs, Gender and Radiation Impact Project, International Institute of Public Health)
TML Daily, posted May 29, 2022.