The 19th annual meeting of the Aboriginal-led Australia Nuclear Free Alliance (ANFA) was recently held on Wongutha traditional lands in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia (WA) ‒ the first time the annual event has been held in the west. ANFA was formed in 1997 at the height of the successful campaign to stop the Jabiluka uranium mine in the Northern Territory.
This year's ANFA meeting came on the back of three uranium mine assessments in WA and two nuclear waste dump proposals in South Australia. The meeting was eagerly awaited by local Traditional Owners as an opportunity to meet others fighting the uranium industry, to share experiences and collaborate on how we can best fight these proposals.
Over 60 delegates from across Australia attended the meeting, with representatives from 29 different First Nations, including Amanda Lickers, a young First Nation woman from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in Canada, who presented a workshop on the fight to stop tar sands mining and gas fracking in her traditional lands. Amanda's traditional lands also contain all five stages of the nuclear industry including areas occupied by Cameco, the Canadian Nuclear Corporation which is trying to open two uranium mines in WA – Kintyre and Yeelirrie. Amanda's spoken word and video presentations about First Nations people taking direct action against these industries inspired the meeting. You can find out more information about these campaigns on Facebook ‒ search for 'Reclaim Turtle Island'.
There was some good news on the uranium mining front this year, with the impending closure of the Ranger uranium mine on Mirarr traditional lands in the Northern Territory and the WA EPA denying approval of Cameco's Yeelirrie uranium mine ‒ a project that threatened to make several subterranean species extinct.
Four young Mirarr traditional owners spoke at the meeting about the Ranger mine closure plans, mine rehabilitation and concerns that the mining company ERA is still looking to expand the mine. The Mirarr delegates were adamant that the Mirarr's position of no uranium mining meant there is no possibility for any further mining in their traditional lands.
Traditional Owners from Yeelirrie spoke about the 40-year fight to stop the mine, seeing off three mining companies. They are waiting to see the decision of the state Environment Minister, who could still approve the mine despite the EPA's rejection of the application.
Two other uranium proposals, Wiluna and Mulga Rock, both in the Goldfields of WA, have just been given the green light by the WA EPA but both are now subject to appeals against the EPA findings. Vimy Resource's Mulga Rock proposal is contentious as the mining company is claiming that there are no Traditional Owners. The proposed mine is situated upstream from a Class A nature reserve at Queen Victoria springs and is inside the Yellow Sandplain Priority Ecological Community.
Janice Scott and Bruce Hogan, local Traditional Owners with ties to Mulga Rock, joined ANFA for the first time this year. Janice recounted stories of how her people, refugees from the Maralinga atomic bomb tests in South Australia, were moved to the Cundalee community close to Mulga Rock in WA. She spoke about how their families learned about that country and have been caring for it ever since and are now facing a second forced eviction. They spoke passionately about how beautiful and unique the plants and animals of the area are, about the burial grounds near the proposed uranium mine, and the appalling decision from Vimy Resources to totally ignore the local Aboriginal people and not consult with them.
Waste dump proposals
With the federal government targeting the homelands of Adnyamathanha traditional owners in South Australia (SA) for a national radioactive waste dump, and the state government promoting a plan for an international high-level nuclear waste dump, there was a large contingent of South Australian traditional owners at this year's meeting. SA has a long history of nuclear issues, from atomic bomb tests to uranium mining and radioactive waste dump proposals.
An earlier plan for a national radioactive waste dump was defeated by the Irati Wanti campaign, led by a group of senior Aboriginal women, the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta. Now Adnyamathanha traditional owners in SA are in the firing line and they spoke at the ANFA meeting about their determination to stop the dump and how they felt that the government and the nuclear industry have unfairly targeted Aboriginal communities. They also spoke about how special the site is, a site that is prone to flooding and is next door to an Indigenous Protected Area.
One of the highlights of this year's ANFA meeting was the presentation from Dr. Christine Stokes about the findings from the Western Desert Kidney Health Project. The project incorporated arts, storytelling, medical research and community engagement to study the possible causes of the large kidney health problems in the area. One of the findings from the study was that the water in the region that has nitrates can cause a range of health problems. Where there are nitrates and uranium in water, the effects on kidneys are severe. Although there needs to be more study, the meeting was concerned that uranium mining could increase water contamination, further adding to what is already an epidemic of kidney health problems.
Australia has a long history of nuclear projects, and a long and often successful history of Aboriginal resistance to this dangerous and unwanted industry. This year's ANFA meeting reaffirmed this with strong talking, resilience and steadfast resistance to the industry. We all have a vested interest in ensuring that this uneconomic, unwanted and unnecessary industry is stopped and that Australia becomes nuclear free.