‘The most nuclear bombed nation on the planet’ is the unwanted accolade claimed by the Shoshone Native American tribe. This has had devastating effects for the community, and RT spoke to one campaigner fighting for justice.
“They are occupying our country, they are stealing our opportunities and we are expected to die because of that. We are still trying to grapple with and understand what happened to us, and find ways to stop it, correct it and prevent it happening in the future.”
Ian Zabarte’s voice is angry but does not falter as he describes the stark fate of his people, Native Americans who have – by anyone’s estimation – been subjected to the most unimaginable horrors for decades, all perpetrated by their government in Washington.
Zabarte, 57, is the Principal Man of the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation and he is spearheading a campaign to expose what he describes as the “ethnic cleansing” of his tribe.
Shoshone land stretches from Death Valley in the Mojave Desert in eastern California to Yellowstone Park in Wyoming. But in 1951, the US started nuclear weapon testing on Western Shoshone territory at the Nevada Proving Grounds (now known as the Nevada National Security Site). The Shoshone can now lay claim to be the most nuclear bombed nation on the planet.
Over a period of just over 40 years, there were 928 tests conducted there – around 100 in the atmosphere and more than 800 underground – resulting in nuclear fallout of around 620 kilotons, according to a 2009 study. In comparison, there were 13 kilotons of fallout when Hiroshima was bombed in 1945.
This obviously is a massive health risk and Zabarte, who lives in Las Vegas but runs a healing centre at Death Valley, is understandably angry. Although he’s engaging and friendly, a sense of rage regularly creeps into his voice as he becomes more animated about the injustices his people have endured. But he never lapses into self-pity; there’s always a steely aura of defiance.
The Shoshone signed the Treaty of Ruby Valley in 1863, which handed certain rights to the United States. But they did not give up their land. “We wouldn’t have signed a treaty that would end in our ultimate destruction,” Zabarte told RT.
According to the tribe, the testing programme has killed thousands of people and many have developed a range of cancers and illnesses.
Zabarte’s grandfather’s skin fell off due to an autoimmune deficiency, and he died soon after from a heart attack. Other family members have had pacemakers fitted at very young ages, while his cousin’s twins died aged 11.
“My family have a high incidence of thyroid cancer, but we’re not following those individuals – we don’t have the capacity,” he explained.
“The United States doesn’t want to study our own adverse health consequences. [It] would be no different to Nazi Germany studying the health consequences of their testing on Jewish people. That is so far from right. We have to do it ourselves and we need help.”
The Shoshone have no medical equipment or computer databases to track their people. So deaths from suspicious conditions are generally not recorded. In addition, the Shoshone are, by tradition, proud people, so not all of them speak out about their health issues.
Although the nuclear testing went underground in 1962, even that wasn’t safe.