Event commemorates uranium mine workers
SHIPROCK — Loren Garnanez's father was among the hundreds of Navajos who worked in uranium mines during the Manhattan Project and the Cold War eras.
As a way of honoring his father's work, Garnanez, of Oak Springs, Ariz., attended the eighth annual National Day of Remembrance today at the Shiprock Chapter house.
The event was organized by the Cold War Patriots, a nonprofit member organization of professionals and advocates who assist workers and families with information about government benefits and advocate for resources that help uranium miners, millers and haulers.
Loren Garnanez said his father, James Jim Garnanez, worked in uranium mines and transported ore in Arizona, Colorado and Utah.
The elder Garnanez was 54 when he died from cancer 25 years ago, his son said.
"He didn't go to school. He couldn't read or write so he didn't know what the warning signs meant, and they never told him about what effect it would give him," Garnanez said about his father.
Garnanez remembered when he was a child, he visited his father’s worksite and the family often lived close to mill tailings.
He also recalled playing in stream beds filled with mine runoff and helping load uranium ore onto transportation trucks.
"They used to give me a quarter for helping," he said.
His reason for attending the event was to pay his respects to uranium workers and hear updates about the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.
David Langie, an advisory committee member with Cold War Patriots, said there are approximately 40,000 members nationwide in the organization.
"National Day of Remembrance is for you. It's to recognize and honor the service that you gave to your country," Langie said during today's event.
This was the third year the event has taken place in Shiprock.
Larry Martinez, an advisory committee member with Cold War Patriots, said uranium mining occurred between 1942 to 1971 throughout the Navajo Nation and mining continued near Crownpoint during the 1980s and 1990s.
There are at least 400 Navajo uranium mine workers who are still living in the Northern Agency, he said.
"It makes them feel like they're somebody. …They contributed to the security and safety of the country," Martinez said about the event.
Martinez asked Cal Curley, a field representative for U.S. Sen. Tom Udall’s office, to explain the challenges facing a proposal to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.
Udall was part of a bipartisan group that introduced the proposal in 2015. The proposal would provide compensation to individuals who worked in uranium mines and mills after 1971 and expand the size of impacted areas.
Although the bill proposing the amendments was introduced last year, it remains in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Curley said.
Federal lawmakers' concerns about securing money to provide the compensation is one reason the bill has not moved in Congress, he said.
"They want to know where they can get that money. Congress is battling with its budget," Curley said.
He called on those in attendance to issue letters of support about the amendments to federal lawmakers. Support could include resolutions from chapters and from the Navajo Nation Council, he added.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.