I was just a young boy when the Rare Metal Uranium Milling was started near Tuba City, Arizona. I still remember the excitement and hope of more jobs for our People. We did not know what uranium was or its effects. The milling operation was completed with a plant, shops and other equipment, including small company housing for workers. I believe mostly non-Navajo people were living in these houses.
The uranium, or Leetsoh, was hauled in by trucks from areas such as near the Grand Canyon and Cameron, Arizona. I remember everybody hauling water from Rare Metals every day because the water pressure was great; it was one of the few places people could get water. These were also great places for doing laundry, which a lot of people did. People met and socialized at these places while the work of milling Leetsoh continued a small distance away. Rare Metals was situated on a small mesa and bluff. The winds blew hard almost anytime of season and the uranium dust from the tailings blew everywhere. Many people lived in the immediate vicinity of the plant, people who lived there before the company moved in. This area was used mostly for ranching as it is still used today. Many of our people work in the plant doing various jobs such as laborers, truck-driver, and janitors.
Through the years of the milling operation, I do not believe any safety procedure information was ever shared or practiced. One decade after the mill closed, the company and Federal Government failed to perform any in-depth studies of radiation exposure from the uranium mined ores. This included any diseases and cancers that were associated with uranium radiation exposure.
Nothing can replace our loved ones who have died from such diseases. Even today, there are still those suffering from the deadly uranium exposure. Nothing can fill the void in our hearts left by the death of our loved ones. My own maternal grandmother, who lived south of Rare Metals mill area her entire life, died of pancreatic cancer when she was in her 90s. We still talk about how she got the cancer, her senseless suffering and subsequent death, and wonder why no in-depth studies were ever done. I lost an aunt last month to cancer of the liver. She was a very active lady and very traditional. She participated in every Navajo ceremony. The way she suffered still affects us today.
A lot of people, the elderly and the young, have died of cancer in the Tuba City area since the mill closed. The cancers can be linked to the uranium milling.
The Navajo Uranium Radiation Victims’ Committee (URVC) came to the Tuba City Chapter recently. They requested an office space in our Chapter House, but, unfortunately, we did not have the office space available at that time. We did everything we could to accommodate them. We continued to seek a place for them. We hope they will be located in Tuba City as the Navajo Nation Council intended.
The Tuba City Chapter, Chapter Officials, and Council Delegates want to advocate for our people exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, exposure associated with uranium mining. We want to see our people compensated in a fair and justly manner. If whole towns and people can be compensated in the State of Nevada for being downwind from nuclear testing sites, then it is only fair that all towns and Chapters where uranium mining occurred also be compensated. People and workers living near these areas should not have to prove to the Federal Government that they were exposed to the deadly radiation. The Federal Government knows that long after people are exposed to radiation, diseases such as cancers can appear.
As a Chapter official, I commend you on your fight and spirit in continuing this battle. We must continue to challenge the U.S. Government, the leaders in Washington, D.C., the President and other like entities involved, for just compensation. Today, only the tailings and building foundations remain from the Rare Metal Milling Operation.
Some reclamation has been done, but the water remains contaminated. Much work needs to be done to clean up this disaster that has damaged our lands and endangered the lives of our people. The wind still blows around these uranium remains, spreading even further the deadly radiation and sickness.
The U.S. government and the military knew about the dangers of uranium mining, the effects of radiation exposure on the human body, and the devastating results that we continue to see to this day. All this information was deliberately concealed from the workers. Our people were used as “Guinea Pigs” by the Federal Government, even by the uranium mining companies and other entities doing business on our Great Nation. It is only fair that all workers exposed to radiation as well as their survivors should be fairly compensated for all their pain and suffering. We must not let our loved ones have died in vain. If the B.I.A. can come forward and admit their wrong doings, or even the horrible deeds done to the Native American People in the name of building a nation, the U.S. Government can come out and apologize to our people for inflicting sickness and wrongful deaths in the name of being the most powerful nation in the world.
We must continue the healing process for our people and our affected towns. We must continue our prayers to the Holy People and continue our cries for forgiveness and help from our Creator so that harmony can be restored.