Australia is about to make a horrible mistake. The country has (at least, tentatively) earmarked the location of its first nuclear dumping site next to an aboriginal cultural site. And the aboriginal community is speaking out — calling the proposed site “cultural genocide.” Australia is on the path to repeating the United States’ past mistakes and environmental injustices.
Can You Put a Price on Cultural Genocide and Death? Yes, Apparently
The traditional lands at the center of the controversy belong to the Adnyamathanha, also known as the “rock people,” from Flinders Ranges, South Australia. In 2009, the Federal Court of Australia recognized the Adnyamathanha’s native rights over 16,000 square miles of territory. But a nuclear dumping site of low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste (e.g. from medical procedures) endangers their territory and legal rights.
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As reported in The Guardian, Wallerberdina Station (a cattle station) near Barndioota — less than 500km north of Adelaide in the Flinders Ranges — was originally one of six sites selected for the proposed nuclear dump last year, but now it’s the only location under consideration after a “four-month consultation process.” I’m not sure who was consulted, but it doesn’t appear to be the Adnyamathanha.
“This is our land, we have been here forever and we will always be here and we are totally opposed to this dump,” says Vince Coulthard, the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA) chief executive, to The Guardian. Apart from calling the move “cultural genocide,” Coulthard adds that the community has been mostly excluded from the decision-making process.
Important Adnyamathanha cultural sites near the proposed dumping site need to be taken into consideration. Hookina Creek, a women’s place and registered heritage site, is one of these sites. When Regina McKenzi, an Adnyamathanha woman, learned about the proposed dumping area coming to her ancestral lands, she told The Guardian that she felt like she was “getting news of a death.”
But, hey, the Adnyamathanha will be compensated for, so that’s something — right? As reported in The Guardian, Josh Frydenberg MP, the Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia, explains that the Adnyamathanha community will receive $2m for local projects and $10m if the Wallerberdina Station is ultimately selected. Frydenberg adds that consulting the aboriginal community is the next wave of the process — even though it should’ve been a priority since the process’ inception, in my humble opinion.
National Treasures, Not Nuclear Dumping Sites
If you’re from the United States, then this whole ordeal should sound somewhat familiar. When I wrote about the massive mine spill caused by the EPA near the Navajo Nation last year, it was hard not to reflect on the ways indigenous communities experience environmental injustice. The Navajo Nation is probably the most infamous and prominent example with its long history of uranium mining that caused high rates of cancers and lung disease in the community.
But this form of injustice isn’t limited to one tribe. According to the Scientific American, “[n]ative tribes across the American West have been and continue to be subjected to significant amounts of radioactive and otherwise hazardous waste as a result of living near nuclear test sites, uranium mines, power plants and toxic waste dumps.”
Environmental injustice just doesn’t compromise the physical health of the locals. It also compromises the environment, and, ultimately, the cultural health. To this day, many indigenous identities are intricately tied to ancestral lands. By polluting sacred, ancestral and/or historical sites, these companies and governments are also polluting ancestral memories and robbing future generations of their ancestral identities. Millions of dollars can never compensate for these past and future losses.
Cultures, languages, traditions and stories that have survived centuries of colonization are national treasures — not nuclear dumping sites.
The final decision for the nuclear dumping site will occur in a year, please act now by signing and sharing this petition urging Australian leaders not to dump nuclear waste near Adnyamathanha territory.