One week after packing the contents of my small apartment into a rusty Ford Taurus wagon and driving across the country to Central New Mexico, I wandered over to the local Wells Fargo to open a bank account. Between questions about checking accounts and “free security options” the teller suddenly looked up from her long painted nails and asked, “You haven’t been drinking the tap water, have you?” Yes, I had been. The next day I began asking everyone I met what they knew about uranium mining and contaminated drinking water in the towns closest to my new home. Local activist Candace Head-Dylla was quick to fill me in. There are five aquifers that used to enrich the carrot fields in Milan until mining replaced agriculture as the area’s major source of revenue. In 1961, the Homestake/Barrick Gold Corporation announced that four of those five water sources were unsafe to drink or use for irrigation. Although not a single health study has been conducted in the area, many residents are certain that exaggerated rates of cancer in their County was caused by seepage from radioactive waste piles.
These photographs and audio portraits were captured in towns and on tribal lands nestled between the world's largest open pit uranium mine and an enormous pile of toxic waste, or tailings pile, approximately 200 acres wide by 100 feet tall. Both sites lay open to New Mexico’s powerful winds which blow harmful dust all over Central New Mexico. These piles and pits represent the legacy of uranium extraction and processing in the American Southwest. In the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2011 five-year review of the old Homestake/Barrick Gold mill, the Agency states that ambient radon levels at the boundary of the site far exceeds levels of radiation that they consider acceptable or safe. Most of the characters in this multimedia essay have been diagnosed with cancer or negatively affected in other ways by mining activities. Through this multimedia essay I hope to document a landscape in danger (not yet endangered) and its people who live with the psychological and physical effects of sharing a region and history with the uranium industry.
My deepest thanks goes to Kathleen Clemons, Dale Clemons, Robin Clemons, Pueblo of Acoma elders, Berleen Estevan, MASE, LACSE and so many others who shared their stories, homes and dinner tables with me.
Grants. New Mexico. 2011.
Lynn Head worked for the copper mines most of his life until an accident crushed his left shoulder. When asked what he thought of people who said the uranium industry was poisoning the town he responded: “If people say they don’t want any more mining, I tell ‘em, go back home and turn off the lights and live in the dark. We need energy and this is the way to get it.”
Milan, New Mexico. 2011. Retired miner.
Pueblo of Acoma, NM. 2011. Senior Center Head Cook, Berleen Estevan.
Pueblo of Acoma. New Mexico. 2011. Edward Hunt points to ripe peaches in his backyard.
Jemez. New Mexico. 2011. Rachelle Simpson in a shallow pool.
Grants. New Mexico. 2011. Hummingbirds announce the beginning of Summer.
Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Dale Clemons in front of the old village.
Pueblo of Acoma. 2011. Lonely Rock.
Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Natural Spring.
Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Senior Center, Director Robin Clemons.
Pueblo of Acoma. New Mexico. 2011. Butchering a lamb for the Day of the Dead.
Grants. New Mexico. 2011. Main Street.
Pueblo of Acoma. New Mexico. 2011.
Milan, New Mexico. 2011. Candace Head-Dylla.
Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Stan Garcia on his porch.
Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Dust storm before the rain.
Milan, New Mexico. 2011. Half a mile away from the Homestake tailings pile, the EPA has determined that ambient radon far exceeds what is considered "safe" levels of toxicity. Milan residents remember homes that were once closest to the Homestake Tailings pile but have since been purchased by the mineral extraction company and buried where their homes once stood, without explanation. This is the site of a buried home.
Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Family gathering.
Milan, New Mexico. 2011. Children play half a mile from the Homestake Barrick-Gold mill tailings pile.
Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Agnes Sanchez, 94, keeps an eye on the main road passing through the Acoma reservation.
Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Erwin Juanico in uniform.
Grants, New Mexico. 2011. Nora Wilson walking in the park.
Pueblo of Acoma. New Mexico. 2011. Andres Garcia.
Pueblo of Acoma. New Mexico. 2011.
Pueblo of Laguna. New Mexico. 2011. Snowstorm.
Grants. New Mexico. 2011. Abandoned motel next to the train tracks.
Grants. New Mexico. 2011. Satellites.
Grants. New Mexico. 2011. Treasure hunter.
Pueblo of Acoma. NM. 2011. Raymond Concho Senior.
Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011.
Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico. 2011. Mount Taylor. The mountain was stripped of its title as a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) in February, 2011 after mining companies and individuals sued the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee and Pueblo of Acoma. TCP designation expands the bureaucratic requirements that must be met before developing land of significant cultural value.