Laguna Pueblo Indian Reservation Case Study: Jackpile-Paguate Mine, New Mexico

Jamie Kneen

National Program Co-Lead

For over 30 years, up until 1982, one of the world’s largest open pit uranium mines, the Jackpile-Paguate Mine, was operated on the Laguna Pueblo Indian Reservation in New Mexico. The mine has had a tremendous impact on the Pueblo: socially, economically, and environmentally. While the mine has been inactive for almost fifteen years, and the tribe is currently attempting to reclaim the land, the impact of the mine’s presence continue to reverberate through Laguna society. Of particular concern to many Pueblo residents are the long term health and environmental effects associated with living near this site.

That the mine has contaminated parts of the reservation (and consequently, those who live and work there) with toxic, radioactive materials is accepted as fact; whether this contamination has occurred in amounts significant enough to be harmful to humans and other life is debated. Nevertheless, residents’ concerns are justified because the types of radioactive elements associated with this site are harmful in such minute dosages, and their toxicity lingers for such extended periods of time, that there is an acknowledged risk. At present, little is known about the stability of these radioactive pollutants, as well, and additional risks may involve their migration into local groundwater supplies or into the atmosphere, through contact with natural forces.

In addition, the mine may have caused or contributed to deleterious health effects for many residents, and especially miners, which continue to be experienced today. Because the negative consequences of exposure to radiological contamination are frequently not evident until many years after the exposure has occurred, it is difficult to document these problems.

The mine had tremendous social and political repercussions on the Pueblo, too, and probably no other single experience has so influenced the lives of the Laguna people in the modern era.

Information from the Interdisciplinary Curriculum on Uranium Mining - Laguna Pueblo Indian Reservation.