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Expanded conceptual risk framework for uranium mining in Grand Canyon watershed—Inclusion of the Havasupai Tribe perspective

January 30, 2024

In 2012, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior placed a 20-year limit on mineral extraction on Federal lands in the Grand Canyon watershed to permit further study of the environmental effects of uranium mining. Tribal concerns were also noted by the U.S. Department of the Interior and included in the rationale for the decision stating Tribal resource impacts could not be mitigated and cultural degradation may result should mining occur within sacred and traditional places of Tribal peoples. The U.S. Geological Survey previously developed a conceptual framework for a uranium mine in the region that defined contaminant sources and physical, chemical, and biological processes that affect contaminant transport to ecological receptors. However, published risk models have largely ignored exposure pathways relevant to Tribal communities in terms of traditional uses and existential values of the resources included. This report presents an updated conceptual risk framework for uranium mining that includes indigenous knowledge components informed by the Havasupai Tribe perspective.

The expansion of the framework relied on connecting to the foundations of the Havasupai ceremonial wheel—food, environment, belief system, and ceremony. The framework is applied to uranium development near Red Butte, an important gathering place for multiple federally recognized Tribes including the Havasupai, Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni. Plants and animals important to the Havasupai for subsistence, ceremonial, and medicinal practices and how mining affects these practices are described. The final framework is presented in English and Havasupai to aid Tribal members in understanding how the framework relates to their community and to help preserve the language and historical cultural practices for future generations. New or expanded exposure pathways include inhalation, ingestion, and absorption from traditional food and medicines as well as ceremonial practices. The updated framework has allowed the U.S. Geological Survey to take first steps in understanding resources important to the Havasupai and to build relationships to improve co-production in our research. Ideally, the framework and other research can be used, along with indigenous knowledge, in Federal research and decision making for mining in the Grand Canyon region.

Publication Year 2024
Title Expanded conceptual risk framework for uranium mining in Grand Canyon watershed—Inclusion of the Havasupai Tribe perspective
DOI 10.3133/ofr20231092
Authors Carletta Tilousi, Jo Ellen Hinck
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2023-1092
Index ID ofr20231092
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Office of the AD Hazards