Environmentalists gathered Tuesday on the Pine Ridge Reservation for an Earth Day celebration that was also a call to action.
During a demonstration a the tiny community of Red Shirt Village, protesters said old uranium mines and ureclaimed exploration sites are hurting the environment and public health and must be cleaned up.
It's a familiar fight for Charmaine White Face. For years the Lakota environmentalist from Rapid City has opposed new uranium mines and alleged that old mines have caused profound environmental and health damage. She says that's especially true on West River reservations where surface water supplies, including the Cheyenne River, flow out of regions with abandoned uranium mines.
"Standing Rock Reservation, Cheyenne River Reservation, Pine Ridge Reservation, we're all polluted," White Face said to about 30 people during a rally at the softball field at Red Shirt.
The extent of that pollution and its actual impact on natural resources and public health is open to debate. So is the question of how much of the problem comes from old mines and how much is naturally occurring in the ground.
But there's little doubt that old mines pose threats and many are poorly reclaimed. That's true here and in other states. And it's why former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was among environmental advocates from other states demonstrating Tuesday at Red Shirt. She also made other West River stops the day before with White Face to check radiation levels.
"We walked around yesterday with a Geiger counter that had elevated readings practically everywhere we went," Stein said. "So, you know, this begs to have a definitve, high-quality study that's open to public scrutiny."
Along with the study, Stein said work must begin soon,to fix old uranium mines that are neither gone nor forgotten.
The demonstration at Red Shirt was part of a clean-up-the-mines campaign that is targeting thousands of old open-pit uranium mines or exploration sites in 15 western states, including South Dakota. About 270 of those sites are in western South Dakota.
More information is available at www.cleanupthemines.org and @Cleanupthemines#cleanupthemines