The Sierra Fund Mining Toxics Initiative hires regional coordinators, hits the ground running

Nevada City, California
November 2, 2006 –

The Sierra Fund's Mining Toxics Initiative began last June with a grant from The California Endowment. Our goal is to conduct a Sierra-wide assessment of the human and environmental health impacts of gold mining's toxic legacy – such as mercury, arsenic and asbestos – and to design a plan of action for addressing this 150 year old problem.

CSU Chico Research Underway

Over the summer, with a grant from The Sierra Fund, CSU Chico's School of Nursing and its Geological and Environmental Sciences Department (GEOS) began reviewing the scientific literature and conducting interviews to compile and analyze what is currently known about mining toxics throughout the region. This inter-departmental project involves Dr. William Murphy and Dr. Dave Brown from GEOS and Becky Damazo (RN, PSN, MSN) in the School of Nursing. Both departments are using graduate students as part of the project.

On October 12, CSU Chico’s School of Nursing presented their preliminary findings in a video conference presentation for the Northern Sierra Rural Health Network clinics. Graduate students presented a PowerPoint about the health impacts of mercury, arsenic and asbestos from mining in the region.

They have now finalized a questionnaire for the clinics to ask questions about the problem, and to identify what information, technology or training they may need to address the impacts of this problem on human health. Their next step will be to send the questionnaire out to health clinics in the Sierra Nevada region, and to do phone interviews with the clinics who fill out the questionnaire. In addition, graduate students will interview “key informants” about the issues under investigation.

Regional Outreach Coordinators Hired

The Sierra Fund has hired three community outreach organizers, Roberto Garcia, Vanessa Conrad, and Malika Edwards, to bring key stakeholders into the process of designing solutions to the mining problem. These organizers are working on the east and west sides of the Sierra to develop a public education program and recruit leaders from Tribal government, environmental groups, rural health clinics and local, state and federal government to work on developing and implementing the mining toxics action plan.

“Our Mining Project regional coordinators bring more than sixty years of community organizing experience to this project,” explains Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin, CEO of The Sierra Fund and director of the Sierra Nevada Mining Toxics Initiative. “We look forward to their impact on this project.

Roberto Garcia is the Central Sierra regional coordinator, covering the Consumnes, American, Bear and Yuba river watersheds. His educational background includes philosophy, ancient languages and teacher training. Originally from New Mexico, he is a rural comminity organization specialist. Roberto has worked as a school teacher and administrator; university professor; rural health clinic researcher; county community action agency administrator; state anti-poverty agency director; federal government mid- management administrator, GS 13 level; and community organizing consultant. He has served on many non-profit Board's, including on the National Chicano Human Rights Concilio; AIM and International Indian Treaty Council volunteer; Office of International Indigenous Relations (formerly United Native Nations), and currently serves as the President of the Tsi-Akim Tribe advisory non-profit Board. He was recently honored with the Tsi-Akim Tribe's first award recognizing outstanding contributions to the indigenous people of the region. He was elected to the Penn Valley Fire District Board of Commissioners in 2002, and is a firefighter Emergency Medical Technician.

Vanessa Conrad has been living on the east side of the Sierra for almost 20 years, and has been an active volunteer for over a decade with various non-profit organizations including indigenous tribal communities while working as a police and fire dispatcher in Reno. She has worked for the Great Basin Mine Watch as a Community Organizer for nearly two years, and began working on the mercury pollution from mining issue that affects so many communities.

Born and raised in Nevada County, Malaika Edwards grew up appreciating the value of the Sierra Nevada. Malaika holds a BA in Environmental Studies and dance from Oberlin College and has traveled the world studying grassroots activism, globalization, and ecology. She has been an organizer and facilitator for over 10 years working for environmental health, justice and community self-reliance. Malaika is a former executive director of Youth for Environmental Sanity and has served on the boards of The Institute for Deep Ecology and The Sierra Friends Center. In 2001 she co-founded the People’s Grocery, an organization working to find creative solutions to the food needs of West Oakland by building a local food system and a local economy. Malaika is a recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service, she was chosen by Utne Reader, San Francisco Magazine and Organic Style Magazine as a young visionary and environmental leader. Malaika’s life goal is to create positive change through love and service.

Tribal Convergence on Mercury

On August 19 & 20, 2006 “Mercury in our Water, our Fish and our People: A Tribal Convergence” was held in Nevada City. Hosted by the Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe and co-hosted by The Sierra Fund, the International Indian Treaty Council, Nevada County Land Trust and South Yuba River Citizen's League, this event brought together representatives from 17 northern California tribes with community organizations and federal land agency representatives to talk about the problem of mercury. The event was supported by United Natural Foods and the California Endowment.

Tribal Representatives were sent from eight Northern California Tribal Councils, and eleven community, environmental and health organizations were represented. Out of this session has come a resolution seeking action on the problem. We are now working with tribes and other organizations to ratify this document and build community support for its goals. The resolution follows this article.

Mercury in our Water, our Fish and our Peoples
a tribal convergence


Whereas, we the participants at the Mercury in our Water, our Fish and our Peoples Conference, express our gratitude to the Tsi-Akim Maidu Peoples for inviting us to their lands for this Conference, recognizing the genocidal actions and policies towards these and other Indigenous Peoples of Northern California brought on by the Gold Rush of 1848, to address the pernicious legacy, namely the continued poisoning of our Sacred lands, water, plants and environment, by mercury, other heavy metals and additional poisonous substances; and to recognize the need to heal ourselves, our water and our lands for our future generations;

Recognizing that there are tens of thousands abandoned gold mines in the Sierra Nevada mountain range that have left over 10 million pounds of mercury in our water and environment, and noting with alarm that one gram of mercury can contaminate an entire lake to levels above what are federally acceptable;

Keeping in mind that mining took resources from our communities in a very destructive ways, left these communities and taxpayers with the exorbitant costs of remediation and cleanup, and that polluters should pay for their pollution;

Recognizing the permanent and irreversible deleterious health effects of mercury and heavy metals on the human brain, central nervous system, the liver and kidneys;

Further recognizing that mercury exposure to pregnant women, lactating mothers and children affects developing fetus, infants, and the continued development of children, impacting thousands of mothers and children each year, causing profound problems such as birth defects, poor motor-coordination, permanent mental handicaps and behavioral problems, significant language and cognitive delays resulting in severe learning disabilities; severely impacting the ability to transmit culture to future generations;

Keeping in mind that there are over 200 symptoms of mercury poisoning, such as those listed above and also including Alzheimer's’ ALS (Lou Gherig Disease) diabetes, depression, fatigue, cardio-vascular problems, affecting the health, harmony and balance of entire communities;

Recognizing that the Indigenous Peoples of Northern California are more immediately and directly affected by mercury, as many rely on fishing and hunting for their traditional means of subsistence, cultural and traditional well-being, and are the first to suffer the pernicious effects of the mercury poisoning of Sacred Mother Earth and its Sacred Waters;

Recognizing further that the destruction of Indigenous Peoples traditional subsistence affects their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including their right of self determination and right to practice their culture and traditions; and that internationally recognized human rights standards prohibit the denial to Peoples of means of subsistence and the necessity for the control of land and natural resources by Indigenous Peoples in order to practice their culture and traditions;

Recognizing that the Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees to children, our most precious resource, the right to a safe and healthy environment;

Recognizing that the problem of mercury and heavy metal pollution of water and the environment is endemic throughout the world, from local to international levels, and that governments must be accountable;

We hereby resolve to seek the following:

1) Insist that remediation efforts to restore our waters, lands and communities begin immediately throughout the Sierra Nevada to remove this foreign toxic metal, and be lead by and employ Indigenous People who will look to their Elders and Spiritual Leaders for guidance, consider models of healing the environment that were successful, and analyze and improve upon methods that were unsuccessful.

2) Insist that Indigenous California tribes should exercise their sovereignty by taking responsibility to implement and maintain the lead in local efforts and in upcoming international mercury treaty negotiations.

3) Insure that Indigenous people are part of local or regional boards that determines any renewal or new issuance of mining licenses.

4) Require that any individual or corporation requesting a new or renewing a previously existing mining claim/license must commit to fully remediate and pay for any pre-existing or resulting pollution. All future mining operations in the region shall be required to retire all by-product mercury, and be prohibited from selling this material on the open market.

5) Insure that remediation will be sensitive to cultural, sacred, traditional, and historic sites and practices; and that all aspects of the Sacred Sites Bill of 2005 are to be enforced before approval of any new or continuing mining activities.

6) Require resources be made available, with complete disclosure of results, for testing for mining toxics on our gravel roads, lands, water, and our bodies. In particular, regarding testing of our bodies, testing must be non-compulsory, results must be private and fully disclosed to the tested individual with no danger of results being disclosed or sold to other individuals, agencies, organizations or entities.

7) Ensure water rights shall not be violated; in particular, all decisions concerning mining should require full enforcement and protection of the water rights of our communities.

8) Insure the best and most innovative technology will be accessible to Indigenous Peoples in California to carry out their leadership and educational roles.

9) Provide mechanisms so that funding and efforts will involve children so Indigenous Peoples can teach traditions and cultural values through their work in healing Mother Earth.

10) Act to insure that the protection and restoration of Salmon shall be a top priority and as an immediate goal on all historical rivers and streams.

11) Provide that California Tribes take a primary role in building positive rapport with all applicable local, state, federal and international agencies.

12) Include efforts to educate the public about Mercury and other heavy metal poisons, as an essential component to building strong transparency and accountability for the remediation of these severe environmental problems. The public will therefore see evidence of transparency, accountability and strong cooperation so that all may trust and heal.

13) Include efforts to bring together wider groups of interested tribes, and community-based organizations to strategize, create allies, collaborations, coalition and tasks forces.

14) Make efforts so that tribes, communities, organizations and involved individuals will work together as team members and to communicate necessary information in a timely manner so that all parties will be well-informed.