ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Navajo president orders tribal workers not to talk to mining companies.
Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. has issued an executive order banning any discussion with companies he claims are seeking to bypass a tribal ban he signed last April on any uranium mining or processing within the Navajo Nation.
Shirley said in a news release that the order was necessary because it had come to his attention that some uranium mining companies are "willfully disrespecting Navajo law and making inquiries of tribal divisions."
No such companies were identified either in the executive order or the news release.
The order was signed Nov. 4 and made effective Monday after consulting with Navajo Nation Attorney General Louis Denotsosie, the release said.
The order directs heads of the tribal Division of Natural Resources, the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection and the Office of the Navajo Tax Commission to provide the tribal attorney general with a written statement about whether any staff members of those divisions have communicated with a uranium mining or processing company within the past year.
The order also seeks a summary of any such communication and directs employees to cease any further contact with uranium companies until getting guidance from the Navajo Nation Department of Justice.
The Dine Natural Resources Protection Act, passed overwhelmingly by the Navajo Nation Council on April 19 and signed by Shirley on April 29, outlaws any uranium mining or processing on Navajo tribal land.
There is currently no such mining on the Navajo reservation, which holds one of the world’s largest deposits of uranium ore.
Uranium mining began on the reservation in the 1940s and continued for some 40 years until decreased demand shut down the operations. But in the wake of radiation sickness, contaminated tailings and abandoned mines, Navajo leaders and community activists have toiled to keep mines from opening up again.
However, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission judge in July dismissed objections from anti-mining groups to a mining company’s plan to extract uranium near two Navajo Nation communities in northwestern New Mexico.
Hydro Resources Inc. had asked for permits for in-situ leaching — injecting chemicals in the ground to release uranium and pumping the solution to the surface — at four sites near Church Rock and Crownpoint.
The decision was to be appealed to the full Nuclear Regulatory Commission and several other regulatory hurdles — as well as the tribal ban on mining — must be cleared before any mining could occur, a staff attorney for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, which represents anti-mining advocates, said in July.