I am writing in response to professor James Rice’s “Do the ends justify the means?” column and his lack of solidarity with the Tularosa Basin Downwinder’s Consortium (TBDC).
TBDC and other impacted communities like mine have worked tirelessly as front-line peoples living daily with impacts from nuclear colonialism and militarization of our state. Our entire state deserves compensation and free health care, and for the proposed amendments to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to pass and be inclusive of all communities suffering intergenerational harm from past and present nuclear impacts.
We live with the cancers, illness, miscarriages, birth defects, deaths, environmental violence, lack of access to our cultural and ancestral sites due to contamination or land theft, and many other examples of physical, spiritual, mental and cultural harm. To reduce these past and present experiences to being valid only with a peer-reviewed scientific journal and process is one of many examples of scientific racism.
In 1945, no studies were being prioritized for Indigenous, land-based and Peoples of Color communities adjacent to the Trinity site. Communities were still practicing home births, and not all birth outcomes could have been recorded. We were (and are) citizens treated as collateral damage for military activities, including the Trinity test. Nuclear exposure regulations back then and today are based on effects on an adult, white male, not an Indigenous or land-based pregnant person.
That there is currently any scientific process from the federal government that exists to support communities harmed has not been my experience. This is especially true for land-based communities in the past. If there was equity for Indigenous and other impacted communities’ ways of knowing, we would not need exhaustive resources or to be dependent on outside “expertise” to come in and speak on our behalf. Our voices should be heard and valued as equal to those of scientists. We do not need them to speak for us, but we do need their support and advocacy. We have our own ways of knowing that are just as valid.
It is the dismissive, patronizing and perceived superiority of professor Rice’s tone as a member of the social scientific community that is really “troubling.”
Our way of life is not considered in exposure regulations and cleanup standards. There have never been studies to determine the cumulative and multiple exposures to a variety of toxins, including radionuclides, among the Indigenous and land-based peoples of New Mexico over long periods of time, much less on our reproductive health.
The burden of proof still falls on us and other frontline advocates, such as the TBDC, to demonstrate the harm we see happening all around us. This is injustice. Pass the RECA amendments, grant our peoples an apology, and let us get to work restoring health and wellness to our state.
Editor’s note: Proposed RECA amendments supported by members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation would expand geographic downwinder eligibility; expand eligibility for certain individuals who have worked in uranium mines, mills or transporting uranium ore; increase compensation amounts; extend RECA for another 19 years beyond a 2022 sunset; and provide compensation for additional forms of cancer.
Beata Tsosie is from Santa Clara Pueblo.