MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Hiroshima Day - the invidious fatal connections

Published by MAC on 2020-08-06
Source: CBC News

Atomic Bomb blast looms over Canadian indigenous community

Today marks the 75th anniversary of "Hiroshima Day", when at least 200,000 Japanese citizens were bombed and scorched to death, and those who survived suffered the terrors of radiation exposure and its consequences which, for many, have persisted until now.

If we need to be reminded (and we surely do), it was the mining of uranium which under-pinned the massacre;  not only metal sourced in Europe, the DR Congo and the USA itself, but from other countries.

The following article tells how Indigenous people in the far north of Canada were compelled, without being made aware, to support the world-threatening, so-called "Manhattan project", by digging and transporting uranium from their own lands..

The Deline community - the prime victim of such ignobility - has apologised to Japan for its involvement in the "tsunami" of destruction, following their enforced participation in engineering it.

But the Canadian government itself remains unmoved, and hasn't yet offered a word of contrition.

Spectre of atomic bomb still looms over N.W.T. community 75 years after Hiroshima

Délı̨nÄ™ is haunted by its connection to the Manhattan Project and creation
of the nuclear bomb


Katie Toth

CBC News

5 August 2020

Cindy Gilday, an environmentalist and Indigenous rights activist, is still
concerned about how mining at Port Radium during the Second World War may
have affected the health of people in Délı̨nÄ™, N.W.T., and other
communities.

Seventy-five years after two nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan — killing
hundreds of thousands of people in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki —
one small community in the Northwest Territories is still haunted by its
connection to the blasts.

Across Great Bear Lake from the 533-person hamlet of Délı̨nÄ™ sits the
historic mining site of Port Radium.

Workers originally mined radium for medical use. But at the height of the
Second World War, the Canadian government quietly called for uranium
production as part of the country's involvement in the Manhattan Project.

That uranium was sent south to help the United States with the race to
build a nuclear bomb.

Eventually, two Allied bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some
estimates say 200,000 people died.

Wondering about the risks

On the other side of the world near Great Bear Lake, workers would
eventually wonder about the risks they took delivering sacks of ore on
their backs as they sent it south — without being told what they were
about to be complicit in.

Danny Gaudet chaired a joint committee between Délı̨nÄ™ and the federal
government on uranium mining in the area, which published its final report
in 2005. He had hoped the report would lead to an apology to community
members from the government for both their physical risks and moral
injuries, but that hasn't happened.

"One of the biggest things that the elders in the group always asked for
is: 'Just simply apologize to us, acknowledge you did something wrong,"
said Gaudet. "That starts the healing journey."

Days after the blasts, the Canadian government announced the country's
role in the explosions, citing the Great Bear Lake mine's uranium as a key
ingredient for the project, said Geoffrey Bird, a professor at Royal Roads
University in Victoria who studies tourism and the history of remembrance.

An English-language sign connecting Port Radium to the atomic bomb was
photographed in Délı̨nÄ™ in December 1945.

Bird said that means people in Délı̨nÄ™ would only have learned about their
involvement in Hiroshima after it was too late. Even the federal
announcement may not have been processed by everyone in Délı̨nÄ™, a
community that included unilingual Indigenous language speakers living
traditional lifestyles, and the knowledge may not have been formally
passed on.

"There's a little bit of a fog in those elements," said Bird.

Gaudet said they are a traditional people and the work at the mine was a
"top military operation."

"Nobody knew what it was for — even transporting it out of the area was
all secretive."

While the Canadian government hasn't apologized to Délı̨nÄ™, the community
has apologized to Japan.

Cindy Gilday was part of that apology.

Today, the environmentalist and Indigenous rights activist is still
concerned about how mining may have affected the health of Délı̨nÄ™ and
other sites along the Great Bear River and the route where ore was
transported south.

"I'm hoping the Government of Canada will have the courage to revisit this
question with the Dene Nation and at least provide a lot more detail,"
Gilday said.

"I can't have that trust with them if they don't apologize'

Locals in Délı̨nÄ™ say many ore workers and their family members developed
cancer later in life. Many in that generation have since died.

In the book If Only We Had Known, which tells the story of Port Radium
from the eyes of the Sahtúot'ine, elders remember workers' clothing
covered with dust, windy days when ore was caught up in the air and
children playing games in mine tailings.

They're prepared to forgive.

The joint 2005 report between Délı̨nÄ™ and the federal government, written
by the committee Gaudet chaired, found that the risks of radiation-related
cancers for people who moved ore at the mine are not much higher than
normal levels, and are even more negligible for their families.

Ottawa also says the site was cleaned up according to standards laid out
in the 2005 report, and in 2016, a site inspection showed that
"remediation methods are working as planned."

But the 2005 report also said there is no evidence ore carriers in the
Sahtu, or their non-Dene colleagues underground in the mines, were warned
their work could be dangerous.

Morris Neyelle, who worked at the former uranium mine site in 1978 when it
was later producing silver, said it's hard to believe Canada's scientific
data about the area if that information isn't paired with empathy.

"I can't have that trust with them if they don't apologize," he said. "I
really don't understand because the community of Délı̨nÄ™, ​​they are a
peaceful people. They're prepared to forgive."

Government says it's working with community

Gilday and Gaudet both say they want more support for Indigenous people to
take the lead on studying the site so that people can have full confidence
in the findings.

Gilday said she believes it's also on the next generation of Indigenous
northerners to make Canada take this issue seriously.

"It's time for the young people from the Dene Nation to step up to the
plate and carry on a story that began on Great Bear Lake and down the
river," she said.

CBC asked the Prime Minister's Office if there were any plans to apologize
to the community of Délı̨nÄ™, and was referred to Crown-Indigenous
Relations and Northern Affairs Canada.

 

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In an email, the department said that the government has recognized
historic uranium mining around Great Bear Lake is an important issue to
Délı̨nÄ™, and that it is working with the community on further resolution.

Neyelle said until that happens, he'll keep speaking up.

"I had always promised myself, if it has to deal with the land I live on,
I would do whatever it takes to stand my ground," he said. "With the land,
I don't need anything. I have everything. But if I lose it, then I have
nothing to fight for."

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