A "Role Play" Activity
As the price of oil exceeds $70/barrel, nuclear energy is once again becoming a viable energy alternative. One of the major domestic sources of uranium in the United States is found in the southwest, on the lands of the Navajo Nation. More than fifteen thousand people have mined uranium or worked in ore processing mills in the Southwest since the 1940's, and some 13 million tons of uranium ore was mined while the mines were in operation ([Ali, 2003] ).
What are the benefits from uranium mining on these lands? Who benefits from uranium mining on these lands? What are the impacts (e.g. health, economic) on the Navajo peoples and the local environment?
To explore these issues, use these comprehensive webpages that provide essential information about numerous topics that address these questions.
We will use a "role-play" approach to explore many dimensions of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation. Students will be divided into 4 groups representing 1) consulting geologists, 2) the mining industry, 3) tribal elders, and 4) public health officials/Environmental Protection Agency. Each group will take about 40 minutes to find information on the website pertaining to their assigned roles. In the next 10 minutes, each group will decide on the essential evidence that informs their point of view (at least 5 key points) making sure to address the above questions. Next, each group will have 5 minutes to report this information to the class during the "town meeting." Each person should complete the activity worksheet with the key points about what is particularly interesting and/or important about each topic covered (these will be handed in). The class period will end with a general discussion of the overall issue of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation, addressing the bold questions above.
Consulting Geologists: Be sure to explore the geology, physiography, and hydrology of the Navajo Nation. What is the general geologic setting, what rock units, structures and landforms are present? What issues involve the quality and quantity of water resources?
Mining Industry: Be sure to explore the types of uranium deposits, and the exploration and development history of this area. What types of deposits are present, how will you develop these deposits (mining and processing), how will the mining companies interact with the Navajo Nation, what are the benefits (jobs, profits, tax base, etc.)?
Tribal Elders: Be sure to explore the cultural heritage of the Navajo Nation, and the environmental and health impacts from uranium mining. You are responsible for the well-being of your people. What impacts were experienced by the last generation who mined uranium? Looking to the future, what impacts or benefits might you expect? How will you balance potential jobs, revenues against environmental and health impacts?
Public Health Officials/Environmental Protection Agency: Be sure to explore the environmental and health impacts, and policy issues related to uranium mining on the Navajo Nation. What is the legacy of uranium mining on the health of the Navajo people? What are your concerns about public health if the mines were to be reopened?
Each group should start their investigation with the recommended pages above, but feel free to explore the entire case study.
For further information about teaching with the Role Playing Technique, see the Starting Point collection.