PEACE PARTY vs. Toxic Waste
- Indian Comics Irregular #125
As a publisher of Native-themed comic books, I got an unusual
invitation last fall: to attend a roundtable on nuclear waste.
Sponsored by the International Institute for Indigenous Resource
Management (IIIRM), the roundtable's topic was the long-term
stewardship of Dept. of Energy waste sites. These sites are usually
decommissioned nuclear power plants or abandoned uranium mines. The
problem is that their radioactive residue will remain toxic for
As one participant noted, civilization has existed for roughly 10,000
years. During that time, 400 generations of traditional people have
come and gone, leaving the earth largely untouched. In contrast, the
Atomic Age is only 60 years old--less than one lifetime. Yet in
that short time, we've generated 10,000 years' worth of contamination.
Ironically, our descendants will have to manage these poisonous sites
for as long as civilization has lasted. Another 400 generations of
people will have to take care of the mess created by three
generations of "cheap" energy.
That's progress for you.
The Role of Indigenous People
The challenge is how to retain the knowledge of physical barriers
and management systems when governing agencies and technological
capabilities may fail. This is especially daunting for disadvantaged
communities, where many of the sites are located. These communities
need solutions that are inexpensive and rely on the resources and
institutions already in place.
Fortunately, indigenous cultures have the right stuff. They're as
ancient and unyielding as any civilization. They've survived this
long by incorporating their beliefs in their myths and rituals. They
feel duty-bound to protect the earth for the countless generations to
In short, they're ideally suited to help shepherd radioactive sites.
As an IIIRM paper presented to UNESCO in 2001 explained:
Our research demonstrates that...Indian tribes and other indigenous
peoples can create stories about hazardous places that will help
maintain institutional memory of the hazards found there.
Stories--including songs, poems, and histories--are told over and
over again, confirming and preserving local knowledge. Stories can
adapt to changes in technology and governments and still maintain
their central message. And stories can be produced and maintained
as easily by disadvantaged communities as others. In fact,
storytellers from Indian tribes and other indigenous communities
often create stories in reverence of place, describing community
origins, memorializing important events, and reaffirming cultural
practices of a place. Such stories can also transmit information
about environmental contamination that is crucial for safeguarding
Comics to the Rescue
The IIIRM's people asked if I could achieve their goals using
Indian comics. Specifically, if I could convey how people
might recall the dangers of a site for thousands of years.
In response, I wrote a PEACE PARTY story about the Yucca Mountain
nuclear waste repository. While this isn't a contaminated site, the
basic issue is the same. How can we ensure that people will never
forget the deadly waste stored there?
At the roundtable I introduced "A Story for the Ages"
(http://www.bluecorncomics.com/iiirm.htm). I made the case for
telling timeless tales with larger-than-life (super)heroes. I said
today's mass-market fantasies--Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry
Potter--are the equivalent of yesterday's epics--the Iliad, Beowulf,
King Arthur. These are the stories people will remember an eon from
Blue Corn Comics