MAC: Mines and Communities

Zuni Salt Lake and Sanctuary Zone Protected

Published by MAC on 2003-08-07

Zuni Salt Lake and Sanctuary Zone Protected

7 August 2003

Press Release from Zuni Salt Lake Coalition

The Zuni Salt Lake and Sanctuary Zone Protected for Future Generations and SRP drops plan for Fence Lake mine and the Zuni Salt Lake Coalition celebrates victory...

The Zuni Salt Lake Coalition celebrated the news that the Salt River Project utility (SRP) canceled plans for the Fence Lake Coal strip mine in western New Mexico. The proposed 18,000-acre mine threatened the sacred Zuni Salt Lake, home to Salt Woman, a central deity to the Zuni People. SRP announced on August 4th that they will now relinquish permits and coal leases acquired for the mine and would instead purchase coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. The Zuni Salt Lake Coalition's (ZSLC) sustained campaign to stop the Fence Lake Coal mine had garnered support from hundreds of thousands of people across the country who had added their voice to call for the protection of sacred sites over dirty coal. The ZSLC had held 24-hr prayer runs around SRP headquarters, marches and rallies and helped secure political pressure to stop SRP's mine. The ZSLC includes the Pueblo of Zuni, Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens Coal Council, Sierra Club, Water Information Network, Tonatierra, Seventh Generation Fund, and others.

"This victory is a testament to the spirit of the Zuni people, other Native American tribes, and non-Native supporters who would not relinquish Salt Woman in the name of cheap coal. We can all breath easier knowing that we have brought environmental justice to the tribes of the Southwest and stopped a dirty coal mine," said Andy Bessler of the Sierra Club, a founding member of the ZSLC.

While the mine proposal was stopped before ground was disturbed, over 7 bodies were excavated during preliminary survey work for the coal mine's rail line. "Those bodies need to be reburied where SRP found them before SRP walks away completely in order to respect our ancestors," said Cal Seciwa, ZSLC founding member. Currently, the bodies are stored in an SRP trailer. Recently, the ZSLC had organized the People's Hearing on Zuni Salt Lake where over 500 people gathered in Zuni to offer testimony for the protection of Zuni Salt Lake. In addition, the New Mexico Congressional delegation had sent a letter to Secretary of Interior Gale Norton asking her to stop the mining permit until pump tests on groundwater near the Zuni Salt Lake could be completed. Coverage of the campaign had been in the New York Times, Albuquerque Journal and the Arizona Republic.

The ZSLC had pressured SRP with multi-language radio ads, billboard trucks, thousands of letters and support resolutions from the Inter-tribal Council of Arizona, All-Indian Pueblo Council, National Congress of American Indians, and the New Mexico Council of Churches. While the ZSLC's two-year campaign was gaining momentum, SRP responded by canceling plans for the mine ensuring that Zuni Salt Lake would be protected for future generations. "It has been a long 20 year struggle with a lot of mental anguish and frustration for our people, but we have had our voices heard," said Pueblo of Zuni head councilman Carlton Albert. "I feel relieved and it send shivers down my back to realize how long this struggle has been and now it has come to closure. So many people have supported us in this struggle and there is no word that can express our appreciation to those who have given us help in the struggle. If there is a lesson to be learned it is to never give up and stay focused on what you want to accomplish."

The ZSLC will be pursuing to have the Sanctuary Zone declared "unsuitable for coal mining" under provisions of federal mining laws.

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