September 1, 1996
make a difference
fights nuclear waste
Not since the Black Hawk War of 1832, when the Sac and Fox Indians nation fought for its land, had the Oklahoma tribe battles. But in 1992, 75-year-old tribe member Grace Thorpe launched a new fight. The enemy: the Department of Energy, which had persuaded tribal leaders to allow construction on tribal land of a storage site for highly radioactive material. The Government was offering a carrot that could be worth $2.8 million . "They knew we needed money," says Thorpe. All 50 states had turned down the proposal.
"I thought about all that has happened to our people over the years," says Thorpe, daughter of legendary Olympian Jim Thorpe> "Every treaty we have made has been broken. I couldn't let this happen." To bolster her cause, Thorpe used research that indicated exposure to radiation raises the risk of cancer and genetic deformities. She learned that the hundreds of radioactive rods to be stored had the destructive power of 200 nuclear bombs. Armed with this information, she began a petition drive against the facility. In February 1993 the Sac and Fox nation bowed to her pressure and voted against the site.
Word of Thorpe's success moved quickly through the informal network known as the Moccasin Grapevine. In 1993, she founded NECONA (National Environmental Coalition of Native Americans) to fight nuclear dumping on Indian lands. Thanks to her efforts, 20 nuclear-free zones have been established on reservations and 14 of 17 tribes that had sought nuclear waste zoning have withdrawn their applications. "She's done an excellent job," says Oklahoma state senator Enoch Kelly Haney.
Know as Notenoquah, or Wind Woman, Thorpe also convinced the International Olympic Committee to return the two gold medals that her father won in 1912, which were stripped from him because he had played semi-professional baseball. This year she convinced the Olympic Torch Run to stop at the Oklahoma site where her father was born. Thorpe arrived for the event in her car, with a license plate that reads, NO NUKES.