It is rare that the achievements of indigenous leaders are recognized for their importance to humanity by organizations of metropolitan societies, but when they do it is worth congratulating them as well as the person recognized. Yakama nation cultural leader Russell Jim has been presented with the coveted Paul Beeson Peace Award by the respected Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility for his tenacious and untiring efforts to preserve the natural world for “generations yet unborn,” and to give the Yakama Nation’s voice to challenging and demanding the clean-up of the US government’s nuclear disaster called the Hanford Nuclear Reservation built in the Yakama Nation’s front yard. As a result of his efforts Yakama people have a better chance of surviving what can only be called a massive nuking of Yakama’s, their culture and their future generations for the sake of developing a nuclear bomb dropped on the Japanese ending World War II.
At countless meetings, conferences, seminars and one-on-one presentations, Russell Jim has spent the better portion of twenty-years calmly, but firmly, explaining what nuclear radioactivity is. He explains how the Westinghouse Corporation and other contractors in complicity with the Department of Energy have failed to effectively manage the byproducts and waste from plutonium enrichment as well as low level radioactive waste. He then describes how the presence of radioactivity from nuclear plumes in the air and leaking tanks leaching into the soil and water system have already caused genetic harm to the Yakama people. Yes, Russell Jim has earned the Paul Beeson Peace Award and he continues earning it as the manager of the Yakama Nation’s Environmental Protection and Hazardous Waste Management Program. Mr. Jim not only serves the Yakama Nation, but he also serves on the Center for World Indigenous Studies Board of Directors while working as a Senior Fellow for Holistic Environmental Management in the Forum for Global Exchange Program.
His work has had a profound impact on a global scale as well. By demonstrating the importance of the Yakama nation in the debate over Nuclear waste and the importance of Holistic Environmental Management as a means for addressing this human made disaster Mr. Jim has altered other indigenous nations to the value of indigenous knowledge to attack this most modern of problems. The British government since 1953 detonated atomic bombs at the Emu Field testing ground in South Australia’s desert. The Yankunyathjara people have suffered enormously from this testing since the camp of the 45 member troupe was located only 170 kilometers from the blast. As Cultural Survival Quarterly reported in 1982, the Yankunyathjara began to experience weakness and skin rashes, vomitting and diarrhea after two days and by the third day healthy children suddenly became blind. Five days after the blast one Yankunyathjara died and within twelve months more died. Within fifteen years of the deadly blast of atomic winds, other aboriginals and settlers alike began to suffer and die from cancer.
The French government tested atomic weapons in 1960 – 1962 in the Sahara at Reggane. Burbers in what became the independent state of Algeria have experienced symptoms from these blasts. But, after the independence of Algeria the French government quickly shifted its test-site for atomic weapons to another indigenous territory in the Tuamotu Archipelago – Polynesia. France’s need to join the “big boys” with nuclear weapons has proved to be a disaster for the Archipelago and the peoples of the Polynesian Islands. The island of Moruroa began sinking and ocean waters and wildlife have been contaminated with radioactivity.
The United States detonated more than 600 atomic and nuclear “devices” in Shoshone Territory making this area of southern Nevada the most highly radioactive location in the world. The Shoshone people have had to contend with the radioactive soils and blasts into the air and now must contend with the decision of the George Bush Administration to use a mountain in their territory as a repository for nuclear waste. US testing of nuclear bombs 100 miles east of the Bikini islands created three inches of ash that affected sixty-four islanders. Island peoples at Kwajalein became the guinea pigs of US testing resulting in more than 90 percent of the children under 12 years at the time of the blasts later developed thyroid diseases.
While the United States, France and Britain along with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (now Russian Federation), China, Israel, South Africa, Pakistan, India and newly establish states like Kazakhstan, and Ukraine toy with the development, testing and refining of nuclear weapons for THEIR security, every one of these states have contributed to the exposure of indigenous peoples to high level and low level radiation killing and maiming whole nations–destroying these nations’ security. The irony of all this atomic testing and nuclear detonating is that only the Japanese and indigenous peoples around the world have suffered the consequences of these vicious weapons. Even the nuclear accidents like that occurring at the Chernobyl power plant in the 1980s ended up having the most dramatic affect on the Sami of Norway, Sweden and Finland–only because they were in the path of the plume.
The Yakama Nation is also one of those nations that now face an uncertain future because of this human created disaster that concerns the states’ government policy-makers so much as they consider such weapons in the hands of vile dictators like Hussein of Iraq. Again the irony is that countries like the United States make such a fuss about the possibility of Iraq mishandling the atomic bomb in Iraq yet for more than fifty years the US invention made in a desert in New Mexico has maimed and killed untold numbers of indigenous people and only an occasional whisper about that is heard. Thanks to Russell Jim, voice has been given to the suffering of the Yakama and other indigenous peoples. For this and his contributions to peace he was presented with the Paul Beeson Peace Award. Congratulations Russell.