Crying Earth Rise Up Examines the Human Cost of Contaminated Water & the Fight to Prevent the Expansion of Uranium Mines

Elisha Yellow Thunder (Oglala Lakota) waits with her daughter, Laila, during a dialysis session.  Photo by Suree Towfighnia.

Elisha Yellow Thunder (Oglala Lakota) waits with her daughter, Laila, during a dialysis session.
Photo by Suree Towfighnia.

Distributed by the National Educational Telecommunications Association on April 4

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA Crying Earth Rise Up, a one-hour documentary premiering this April on Public Television, is a community-engagement project addressing the impact that modern uranium extraction has on the land, water, and communities.

Produced and directed by Suree Towfighnia of Prairie Dust Films with consulting producer Debra White Plume (Oglala Lakota), the name of the documentary comes from a belief of the Lakota that Mother Earth needs to be cared for through good stewardship of the land and caring for its natural resources.

The project follows Elisha Yellow Thunder (Oglala Lakota), a young mother and geology student. Elisha is fully aware of the contamination dangers posed by the uranium mines to the vast and precious Ogallala Aquifer. During Elisha’s first pregnancy, she drank contaminated water. Today, her nine-year-old daughter, Laila, continues to suffer from serious, life-threatening birth defects and medical abnormalities. Elisha is determined to identify the source of the contamination in an effort to protect her water supply, as well as that of her Lakota people.

Debra White Plume is a grandmother and tireless leader in the fight to protect her people’s water and land from corporate polluters. White Plume is the lead plaintiff in a case challenging uranium mining on Lakota treaty territory and speaks out about the issue from her own community on the Pine Ridge Reservation to the steps of the White House in Washington, D.C.

The narrative arc of the film follow’s Elisha and Debra’s parallel search for answers to the questions, “Why are there high levels of radiation in our drinking water? And, how can we protect our families and community against this threat?” They are supported by members of the tribe, environmental activists, and a host of others who have filed a case to prevent the mine’s expansion in the region. Balancing the story are local residents and the mine company itself, who claim that the town would fold if the mine were shut down.

As this struggle looms over the Great Plains, Crying Earth Rise Up stands in defiance to contemporary uranium mining assertions of minimal impact on land and water. When nations discuss “green and clean” alternative energy, uranium and nuclear are often touted, however, the discussion never includes the long-term impact of mining.

“We live in a world where 40% of our energy comes from nuclear sources, so uranium mining impacts all of us. Flipping a switch powered by nuclear energy makes you wonder where that uranium comes from,” explained Suree Towfighnia.

The practice of in situ leach mining (ISL) involves combining groundwater with a leaching solution, then injecting the solution through plastic pipes into uranium reserves located below or within the water table. The uranium in the groundwater is pumped to the surface to be drawn out and dried into yellowcake. After this process, some of the leaching water becomes radioactive sludge and must be stored at a uranium tailings facility for disposal. The remaining groundwater is then treated by cleaning it through reverse osmosis and re-injected back into the aquifer.

“With 70% of the world’s uranium resources being located in the lands of Indigenous people, this topic is especially relevant and pressing to Native communities. Crying Earth Rise Up aims to increase awareness about the timely and critical need to protect water,” said co-producer Courtney Hermann.

Bruce Ellison states in the documentary, “Until companies can prove that mining is safe, they shouldn’t be allowed to operate in our communities.”

Crying Earth Rise Up–which received major funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and Vision Maker Media–is an offering of the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA). This documentary will be available to Public Television stations nationwide on Saturday, April 4, 2015, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern. This program is suggested for scheduling for Earth Month in April. For viewing information in your area, please visit www.visionmakermedia.org/watch

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