Pam Kingfisher and Dimity Hawkins lead the Nuclear Truth Project, an international initiative connecting Indigenous and First Nations Peoples, affected community members, international and civil society organizations, experts and governments working for nuclear abolition. Their work is centered on developing protocols for working with impacted Peoples and communities; education through new research, maps and archives; and building networks between affected Peoples and allied communities and governments. This is part of a series of interviews in which you can get to know the grants given under the 2022 Equity Rises Request for Proposals and the people behind all the work.
Question 1: Tell us about your work! What kind of goals do you have? What are you excited about?
Pam: I am very discouraged by the lack of accountability in the US regarding our war economy, our capitalist behaviors towards human rights and the ongoing nuclear contamination we hide. As I watch other countries (States Parties) sign on to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in the face of political and economic bullying by the United States, I applaud their brave nobility and yet feel crushed under the weight of nuclear colonization in the US. By working internationally with others, I have a growing sense of hope in the ability of good people to come together to accomplish great things. The Nuclear Truth Project is convening differently than most organizations as we work to be an example of our Protocols of Rights, Respect and Reciprocity. We are operating in a circular and equitable way, rather than a vertical hierarchy and we are consciously aiming to create equity and diversity in leadership and strategies. I am excited to bring more Native American and Indigenous Peoples voices to the table as countries discuss impacts, reparations and ecological strategies. The history of Native American peoples in the creation of the atomic bomb has been buried in secrecy and shame as their health issues continue to be ignored, and we can’t let that happen.
Dimity: When we started the Nuclear Truth Project in 2021, I was thrilled to be working alongside an incredible community of people who came together to talk about the impacts of the shift created by the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, then went far beyond that! Pam took on coordinating the project from the early days, and helped garner the energy and intent to bring about our early protocols alongside a small team of largely affected community members, which I was lucky to be included in. I have been happy to join Pam as co-coordinator later this year, putting into practice our commitment to balance our work between affected communities and allies. We are excited to be consulting broadly on our protocols and building our understandings about what archives are available or still needed around nuclear harms. We are working closely with community members, civil society, and governments to raise the understanding of the centrality of voices from affected communities. It is invigorating, sometimes challenging and all consuming, but the good company in this work makes it all worthwhile!
Question 2: In collecting testimonies and stories for Nuclear Truth Archive, what kind of questions do you ask yourself and others? How do you approach these topics that can sometimes be deeply sensitive and emotional to the people you’re interviewing?
Pam: Our stories are who we are, it’s a very intimate and personal conversation when we share – are we being respectful? How shall we share your story together? This is why we developed Protocols early on – affected communities and Indigenous Peoples are rarely respected in these processes and we want to ensure protections for the people and communities who have the knowledge.
Dimity: There are significant traumas arising from the nuclear industry, particularly in communities who have been silenced or marginalized in the past. For those who have direct experience of nuclear weapons use or testing, the deep psychological and often physical harms are deepened further by concern for the long-term impacts on family, on lands and water, and on non-human family. For those in subsequent generations, a lack of knowledge of details of what happened can lead to lifetimes spent unsure of whether their health problems can be attributed to nuclear contamination. For the many communities further impacted by an industry that creates, supports or uses nuclear weapons, through to uranium mining, power, or waste, the consequences to health and the environment are devastating. Official secrecy and a lack of nuclear accountability compound these traumas. And yet we know there are significant resources existing in archives and official records around the world which should be made available to researchers, governments and communities. We recognize that those with lived experience of nuclear survival provide a specialist expertise that has been undervalued in scientific and political inquiry around these issues until relatively recently.
Our archival work aims to focus first on identifying any existing nuclear databases through academia, non-government organisations, communities, governments and other bodies. We will then seek advice on copyright, attribution and distribution, translations, and cultural contributions. And work with survivors who self-identify as having histories they wish to contribute to gather their stories for future generations.
Question 3: How do you think including more diverse voices will affect the nuclear policy field?
Pam: Unfortunately, our health services suffer from this malady and we see the consequences play out in the health disparities of the poor, women, children and people of color in our country. Just understanding the standard health model of “White, male” norms in research, rather than having any focus on the health of vulnerable women and children reveals the fallacy of one-way thinking. Affected communities have lived experiences, observations over time, in-situ information of place and so many cultural perspectives, which bring invaluable information to any research or policy conversations. Indigenous Peoples are deeply connected to the environment and geological information from oral teachings, creation stories and survival strategies. To ignore the voices of Indigenous knowledge systems and earth sciences would contribute to the ongoing lack of understanding of the planet and our survival together.
Dimity: Numerous studies have noted the positive impacts of increasing access and diversity in policy areas. In the nuclear field, this is long overdue. There is increasing awareness of the powerful contribution that can be made through the voices of people with lived experience. By redressing the balance to recognise the importance of these voices, and the expertise they bring, we will continue to see a shift in the hold nuclear weapons and the broader industry has on our states, politics and cultures.
Question 4: Who or what motivates you?
Dimity: I am motivated by a childhood growing up in the Pacific where nuclear weapons were tested by foreign powers (the United States, Britain and France) 315 times over half a century (1946-1996). Growing up in the Cold War in this region, these tests symbolized colonialist violence. The consequences of these weapons were more than a fear – they were a reality. As an adult I have worked for decades on nuclear issues in Australia, and know the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons and the broader nuclear industry – particularly uranium mining and nuclear waste – on First Nations Peoples. I am motivated by a love for our planet, by people who strive for peace, community and real human and environmental security, and by a vision of a world free from nuclear threats. It is my life’s work, and I feel honoured to be working alongside a global community determined to end nuclear threats.
Pam: I am motivated by the water and the bees/birds. We cannot live without them, the planet will not sustain humans without the purity of water and the magic of winged ones. Nuclear weapons and energy plants threaten every living being including the planet – every day. There is no more important fight to be in – right now – at this juncture of climate change and the power struggle for world domination. My father unwittingly made plutonium for the atom bomb at Hanford, but I consciously worked to shut down 23% of the worlds’ uranium supply at Sequoyah Fuels/Kerr-McGee. I won’t stop until my spirit has left this realm.
Question 5: What’s the one thing about the nuclear policy field you wish people knew or would talk about more often?
Pam: Money. The US budget does not reflect nuclear weapons – the costs are hidden in the military budget. Everyday people here have no idea about the US nuclear economy and the secrets being hidden from our citizens.
Dimity: Accountability. At all levels. From the personal (questioning how we participate in nuclear and colonial violence) to the state (demanding government accountability for nuclear violence, coercion or inaction) to the cultural (especially the silencing and erasure of the human story) – we all have much we should be examining in the nuclear policy field.
Question 6: What do you think the nuclear field needs right now?
Dimity: Abolition. There is no question of the problems created by the nuclear industry, and certainly none whatsoever about the disproportionate harms of nuclear weapons. We see this most markedly in communities often marginalized through colonialism or nuclear racism. But these harms are at every level of our societies. As Arundhati Roy has said “It is such a supreme folly to believe that nuclear weapons are deadly only if they're used. The fact that they exist at all, their presence in our lives, will wreak more havoc than we can begin to fathom.” The abstractions that have allowed these weapons and the associated industries to continue despite the knowledge of the unacceptable consequences must end. Half measures, incrementalism, or inaction are no longer acceptable – we need abolition now.
Pam: Clean up. The nuclear “field” is a hot mess.
Question 7: What is the best book you’ve read recently?
Pam: Plutopia, Brown. I was raised near Hanford and never understand the racism of one town, Pasco. Now I understand. I didn’t know so many things growing up in a “nuclear family” near the site, this book delved into details I’ve wondered about my whole life. My dad started work at Hanford in 1943, most of the dad’s in Benton City, WA worked at Hanford, but no one asked questions or talked about their work.
Dimity: Ray Acheson’s 2021 book, “Banning the Bomb, Smashing the Patriarchy” In it Ray weaves the history and details the shifts in norms, politics and strategies behind the campaign to that led to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It is a strong feminist critique of the weapons themselves, but also details the radical approach of civil society and governments to address the entrenched problem of nuclear weapons.