Reporting on Uranium Mining in the Navajo Nation

An imagined news report from Skyline High School's Earth Team

In Early November, Earth Team spent some time discussing Environmental Justice and its legacy here in the US. This included an assignment where teams selected an environmental issue of their choice and created a news report style presentation on the issue and its effects. Here is a script by one group from Skyline High, about Uranium mining in the Navajo Nation and the effects this had on the surrounding populations and environment. 

Anchor: Hello and welcome to the program. Today we will be addressing the issue miners in the Navajo Nation in the southwest face. They are over-exposed to cancer-causing Uranium. Mining for uranium in the Navajo Nation began in the early 1920’s. The demand for uranium only increased as atomic weapons were being developed. Navajo workers were paid low wages and were not informed of the effects uranium had on their health. To the Navajo, uranium always seemed somewhat of a bad omen, they felt it was supposed to stay in the ground, it would only bring death and destruction. Their beliefs sadly became a reality for them

Now to our reporter in the field, who will be speaking with the director of the Office of Navajo Uranium Workers.

Reporter #1-  Thank you, now Mr. Director, why did you get into mining in the first place? 

Director of the Office of Navajo Uranium Workers- Jobs were pretty scarce. In 1958, I had just returned from the armed services. I couldn’t find a job and I had a chance to get into the mines. The first time, after about three months, I complained about the safety of the mines. The boss didn’t like it, so he said at the end of the work week, “Don’t come back on Monday.”

Reporter#1- Why did you continue working even after you complained about the safety? 

Director- We were forced back into the mines, we also need money to support our families. The mine ownership changed, Kerr-McGee took over. I again complained about the pay because the federal law required that the workers be paid $1.25 an hour, we got 80-90 cents.

Anchor- Thank you. Now I will bring it over to our other reporter, who is speaking with someone whose father worked in the uranium mines. 

Reporter#2- Hello everyone. I am here with someone whose father worked in the mines and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1960

What can you remember from your father working in the mines?

Interviewee- My father worked in the mines from 1955-1960. He’d wake up in the early hours and come back home late covered in dirt. I remember that all of our neighbors also worked in the mines. As a child, I was never allowed to enter the mines, because it was too dangerous.

Reporter #2- When did your family first discover his health issues?

Interviewee: Shortly after he was laid off from his job. He was injured from a mine collapse and the mine company did not think he was fit to work. He first started acting lethargic, he always had chest pains, and he started coughing blood. That’s when we knew something was wrong. 

Reporter #2: Did you ever suspect that the cancer was caused by the mines?

Interviewee: At first, I thought that was impossible. There was no way uranium mining was that dangerous. However, I started hearing about similar lung cancer cases all around the community. It took a while, but everyone began connecting the dots. The only people that were diagnosed with lung cancer were those who either previously or currently worked in the mines.

Anchor: Thank you for tuning in, please join us again tomorrow at the same time for more news and interviews. 

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