By: Niria Alicia, Community Organizer with Greenaction
There is so much we can learn if we take the time to slow down and listen to our elders. I was taught this from an early age by my elders and this wise advice came to life on my first visit to Ward Valley with Bradley Angel and the Greenaction team. Being a first generation Xicana raised in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve grown up my whole life thirsty to learn about my culture and the stories of my ancestors, a type of thirst that can only be quenched by the stories of my elders. In recent years, as I’ve grown to embody my love for Mother Earth and my people through my work, I’ve developed a similar thirst for learning the stories from the elders in the environmental justice movement. I’ve come to realize that the more my cultural stories join forces with our movement stories, the power and the hope within me grows exponentially and nourishes my sense of purpose and direction in life.
This weekend Greenaction was invited to attend the 20th anniversary to celebrate the 113 day occupation and victory that saved Ward Valley, the desert tortoise, sacred sites and the Colorado River from a proposed nuclear waste dump. I had wondered so much about the significance of Ward Valley in the environmental justice movement having heard the epic stories Bradley would tell me about his time there. Listening to him retell animated accounts with so much enthusiasm and passion fed the flames of my excitement to meet the elders and experience the land and the spirit of the Ward Valley victory. I knew that to Bradley, the Ward Valley victory was what ‘Standing Rock’ has been to my generation. Little did I know that the Ward Valley victory significantly influenced and informed the battle at Standing Rock, a battle that has significantly uplifted the spirits of innumerable land defenders and water protectors all over the world.
We rose with the sun on a cold windy morning, left the Avi Casino at 8am and drove 30 minutes into the desert to what Bradley and many of the elders referred to as ‘ground zero’. Dozens of people gathered to celebrate this victory that has been successful in keeping the nuclear waste dump from being built to this day. Folks gathered to honor the people who were instrumental in the victory and to retell their vivid stories in hopes that the younger generations could also listen and learn about what it took to successfully mobilize a small group of people to go up against the government and a multimillion dollar corporation, and win.
To this day, there is not a day that goes by where Bradley doesn’t mention Ward Valley to give context to all other environmental justice issues we are working with. This battle was led by a coalition of indigenous people, allies, and organizations that had set out to fight the proposal of a nuclear waste dump that was being proposed by a company with a horrific track record of poor waste management practices. Nuclear waste is not something that can be easily remediated. Given that this matter takes thousands of years to decay -and sometimes more- and considering the high rates of cancer and negative effects to human health, this proposed nuclear waste dump posed a threat not only to my generation but my great great great grandchildren as well. This stance was monumental for many reasons and my generation today is still being protected by the brave stance of a handful of visionary people who came together to fight for Mother Earth and our future. Our generation has much to learn from the elders whose sacrifices and victories are still protecting us today.