Scenario 7

Local Knowledge vs. Expert Knowledge

With the proposed revitalization of the nuclear power industry under discussion in the United States, there may well be pressure for renewed uranium production. It seems like the climate change debate has emboldened nuclear power advocates. One of the sites at which uranium was mined years ago is in Navajo Nation in Arizona. There are hints that various corporations want to renew that activity.

Anyone who has spent time in Navajo Nation has heard stories about the disastrous impacts of uranium mining on workers who helped to dig uranium out of open pits (sometimes with their bare hands). Because appropriate safeguards were not enforced and workers tracked yellowcake back into their homes every night, cancer rates among these workers were extraordinarily high. A great many families lost loved ones. What these families would consider adequate compensation has never been paid. The federal government has not accepted responsibility for the illnesses and deaths experienced by tribal members involved in the uranium industry. Even after the mining sites were shut down, the federal government and the corporations involved did not cap the sites properly. Polluted water supplies, blowing airborne dust, and animals and children wandering through these unprotected sites continue to pose unacceptable risks.

Assume you work for the Navajo Environmental Agency. You want to be sure that "local knowledge" about the adverse effects of uranium mining in Navajo Nation is given serious consideration when and if the U.S. government or its industry partners tries to revive uranium mining. How would you go about capturing this knowledge and ensuring that it is taken seriously? Undoubtedly, you will be up against public health and other experts who will claim that the adverse impacts of uranium mining were minimal, or if they did occur it was only because the proper rules and regulations were ignored. What is your "theory" about the best ways to incorporate indigenous knowledge into public policymaking?


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