Event honors uranium miners, workers

Noel Lyn Smith
Senator Martin Heinrich talks with Gilbert Dayzie, civil engineer with the Shiprock AML Reclamation Program on Oct. 2 during a tour of a uranium mine in Oaksprings.

FARMINGTON — One of eight nationwide remembrance events planned to commemorate the service of uranium miners, millers, haulers and their widows will take place Friday in Shiprock.

The event is part of a nationwide event organized through the Cold War Patriots, a non-profit membership organization of professionals and advocates who assist workers and families with information about government benefits and advocate for those resources.

There are more than 30,000 members nationwide and many of them worked during the Manhattan Project and the Cold War eras.

Larry Martinez, a  Cold War Patriots representative, said uranium mining on the Navajo Nation started in the 1940s with a number of Navajos taking advantage of job opportunities that were close to home.

They were not told about the dangers the work posed to their health, he said.

In September, Congress enacted a resolution declaring Oct. 30 as National Day of Remembrance for nuclear weapons programs and uranium enrichment workers.

“It’s to thank them for what they’ve done,” Martinez said about the event.

Among the individuals scheduled to speak at Friday's event at the Shiprock Chapter house are representatives from the Office of the Navajo Nation President and Vice President, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M.

Senator Martin Heinrich tours an old uranium site on Oct. 2 in Oaksprings.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty and officials from Shiprock Chapter are also set to speak.

There will be an open floor discussion about the impairment ratings, which is an evaluation system used by the U.S. Department of Labor to determine benefits.

Martinez said the discussion would center on concerns and issues workers are having with the ratings and the program's payment process.

The comments could be used to propose legislation to the tribal council and tribal president. That legislation could then be sent to federal lawmakers to amend the system to make it more responsive to former workers, Martinez said.

“I think it’ll have more impact if it’s a government document,” he said.

Martinez became familiar with the workers and the issues they face through his work with the Navajo Office of Uranium Workers, where he served for 15 years before retiring as director.

He said more than 500 Navajos are registered members of the Cold War Patriots.

This is the seventh year for the remembrance and the second time it will take place in Shiprock.

Events in past years occurred in Gadii’ahi and in Cove, Red Valley and Rock Point in Arizona, Martinez said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-546-4636.

If you go

What: 7th annual National Day of Remembrance

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday

Where: Shiprock Chapter House on U.S. Highway 64 in Shiprock

More Info: Larry Martinez, 928-890-4252