Sunny’s dream, “Earth Daughter,” is to expose any heavy metals and toxins in the San Juan and Animas riverbeds that are a result of the Gold King Mine Spill in 2015. Sunny’s project would consist of collecting water and riverbed samples, as well as the cultivation of wild onions 2.5 years following the spill to perform an analysis of the water quality.
“This data may show similarities in other plants in the river and in food that we eat each and every day,” said Sunny, who has presented her project at science fairs, to New Mexico environmentalists and those with a specialty in environmental science .“They have told me that they have not seen someone use the concept of looking at onion root tips in a scientific application.”
Sunny’s Home and Community
Sunny’s home is the small town of Shiprock, New Mexico on the Navajo Nation Reservation, where more than 34 percent of the population live below the poverty line, more than double that of the national average of nearly 15 percent. Shiprock ranked third in the nation in the percentage of Native Americans living below the poverty line, according to a 2013 Census Bureau report.
In her community, Native students are not always encouraged to pursue a secondary education or given information about scholarship opportunities that can change their futures.
“They do not realize that they don’t have to follow the foot-steps of their parents, to remain on a small piece of land that was forced upon us and resort to alcohol, drugs, domestic abuse, violence and suicide,” says Sunny. “I want to show them that they can travel, and find their way to become successful, to follow their dreams in education, especially in science. Showing others what we are really capable of will blow their minds.”
What motivated Sunny to develop this dream?
The Gold King Mine waste water spill was an environmental disaster which occurred when EPA personnel along with a contractor
caused the release of toxic waste water into the Animas River watershed. The accident caused the spilling of 3 million gallons of mine waste water including heavy metals such as lead and cadmium, and other toxic elements such as arsenic, beryllium, zinc, iron and copper. The EPA has taken responsibility for the incident, but refused to pay for any damages claims filed on the grounds of sovereign immunity.
“We depend on the water from the San Juan River which flows through Shiprock,” says Sunny. “This water is not only used for owner’s livestock and farmland, but for drinking, cooking and bathing water to those who live off the grid and have no water access.”
The Dream as a Solution
Sunny wants to gather other organizations’ archival data on the San Juan and Animas rivers and compare it with the current data she will collect including pH levels, fecal coliform and the physical properties of the water, and make an overall analysis of the water and riverbed contamination over a 2-year period and make presentations to local community members.
The Potential Impact in the Future
“I want to show them through hands-on presentations what is in our water and what can be done about it,” said Sunny.