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Slamdance panel spreads message ‘Downwind’

Participants discussed personal tragedies of nuclear testing

Retired KUED Ch. 7 executive Mary Dickson talks about her experiences fighting cancer during a panel discussion held a few hours before the Slamdance Film Festival premier of Mark Shapiro and Douglas Brian Miller’s documentary “Downwind.” Dickson appears in the film that delves into the effects of nuclear testing from 1951-1992 on Shoshone land in Nevada. | David Jackson/Park Record

Mary Dickson, a retired KUED Ch. 7 executive, said the United States has killed more people with nuclear weapons and nuclear testing than any other country.

Not only did the country use them on two cities — Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in Japan, at the end of World War II — it has also infected and killed people across the nation after 40 years of 928 detonation tests between 1952 and 1991 on the sacred land of the Western Shoshone Nation in Nevada, Dickson said. She was speaking during a panel discussion, moderated by KRCL radio‘s Lara Jones, Monday at Slamdance at the Treasure Mountain Inn.

“We just didn’t test in Nevada,” said Dickson, an internationally recognized advocate for victims of nuclear testing. “There were some in Alaska, Mississippi and Colorado. (And) we also tested them in the South Pacific, and destroyed cultures and populations.”



The discussion, which also included Ian Zabarte, principle man of the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation, secretary of the Western Shoshone National Council and secretary of the Native Community Action Council, and Scott Williams, nuclear policy analyst for the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah), was held as a preview for the premiere of the documentary “Downwind,” by filmmakers Mark Shapiro and Douglas Brian Miller. All three of the panelists are featured in the film that is currently screening online at slamdancechannel.com.

After 30 years of advocacy, Dickson, a cancer survivor, who was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer, doesn’t believe that nuclear weapons and nuclear testing prevent nuclear war.



She instead believes that nuclear testing is a form of nuclear war, and testing is responsible for her illness and the illnesses of others.

“And I view us as casualties of war,” she said. “We’re veterans, but we will never have flags draped over our coffins.”

Williams, a former physician who has been working on fighting exposure to radioactivity for the past 20 years, said radiation finds its way into communities through insidious ways.

“I went to medical school with someone who developed thyroid cancer, and all of his siblings developed thyroid cancer,” he said. “They lived in Salt Lake City but got their milk delivered from a dairy that was in Washington County. And that’s where the radiation found its way into the population.”

The most common way radiation spreads is through the air, said Williams.

“One of the counties with the heaviest radioactive fallout from the testing in the 1950s is in southeastern Idaho, because of the weather patterns,” he said. “We’re all downstream from something.”

Once radiation contaminates the air and ground, it never leaves, according to Zabarte, who, along with the Native Community Action Council, started investigating his community’s “adverse health consequences” after the United States stopped secretly testing weapons of mass destruction on the Nevada test site.

“My people are owners of the land, and we began our investigation by looking at our plants and animals,” he said. “Based on lifestyle differences, we didn’t get our food from stores during the weapons testing, and even today we eat wild foods. We pick pine nuts, we eat rabbit, deer and antelope.”

Those foods have been found to contain radiation, as does the plant life, Zabarte said. 

“The deadwood we use for our houses and sweat (lodges) produces smoke, which is another exposure pathway,” he said.

Shapiro and Miller made “Downwind” because many members of their families have died of cancer that they believe was caused by nuclear testing, and they wanted to raise awareness of the connection.

“We’re all patriots, and we all love our country,” Miller said. “But there is also cause for change. We want this story out to help make change.”


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