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Speaker suggests native law approach
The weekend's Environmental Law Conference featured 15 keynote speakers on a variety of issues

Ali Shaughnessy
Environment/Science/Technology Reporter
March 10, 2003

As the time approached 1 p.m. Saturday, the EMU Ballroom rapidly filled with students, environmental activists, lawyers and community members, who had gathered to hear the Honorable Robert Yazzie speak. Seats filled quickly, and people entering late were resigned to sitting on the floor or leaning against the wall.

"I miss the days of heavy winter snows," Yazzie said. "When I see, feel and taste the declining quality of our water, life and earth, I worry what my grandchildren and future generations will inherit."

Yazzie -- the Chief Justice of the Navajo Supreme Court -- was one of 15 keynote speakers involved with the 21st annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, which took place during the weekend. As he spoke Saturday, Yazzie focused on the Navajo's view on the environment and how it should be treated.

"All creation from mother earth and father sky have their own independent freedom to exist," he said. "We should obey the laws of nature because it is there for a purpose, and we must respect it for what it is."

Standing in the doorway of the entrance to the ballroom, Land Air Water passed out a transcript of the fundamental laws of the Diné, which means people. LAW hosted the event, which started Thursday and ended Sunday. Yazzie referred to the transcript throughout his speech, pointing out ways western culture differs from the Navajos in treatment of the environment.

"The end goal of life is not me," he said. "While Navajos are known as the people in English, it is a mistranslation. We are not the people, but one of many. There are rock people, tree people ... we depend on each other."

While Yazzie spoke on the Navajo views of environmental injustice, other speakers focused on topics such as ecofeminism or genetic engineering. There were also various workshops, presentations and panels that took place during the weekend, focusing on a variety of environmental issues.

Jennifer O'Donnell was another keynote speaker, and she centered her lecture on corporate responsibility as well as her involvement in Ohio Citizen Action.

"(O'Donnell) has spent more than 20 years kicking ass in the trenches," LAW treasurer Jason Klein said in his introduction of O'Donnell. "She's a wonderful, passionate individual."

OCA, an environmentally aware group that prides itself on taking on issues which affect the lives of citizens in Ohio, is currently working on a campaign to keep the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant closed.

O'Donnell took the stage and explained to her audience that Davis-Besse was originally shut down one year ago because of a football-sized hole in the reactor head. There was less than half an inch of stainless steel liner keeping the radioactive and pressurized internal environment from blasting into the reactor containment building, which could have damaged safety equipment, and possibly set into motion a core melt accident.

"It's like a horror movie," O'Donnell said.

The owners of Davis-Besse, First Energy, planned to have the plant running again within months of the shut down, but a reopening has yet to happen. O'Donnell said OCA is working to keep the plant from reopening at all.

"Nuclear power is not clean, it is not cheap, and it is not safe," she said. "We will prevail."

Contact the reporter
at alishaughnessy@dailyemerald.comend of article dingbat

Speaker suggests native law approach
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