Quilt honoring former uranium mine workers on display in Shiprock
SHIPROCK — After graduating from high school in Albuquerque, Bobby Charley started working full time in an underground uranium mine in Slick Rock, Colo.
Charley was familiar with the labor because he worked there during summer breaks from school.
"It's interesting how we used to work because you don't have any, per se, regulations. You never knew about the exposure. Now I'm going through a lot of health complications," he said.
Among the health problems the Gadii’ahi resident has developed are pneumonia, silicosis and cancer.
"But I appreciate what I did because, like they say, you contributed to keeping America safe. I think I did my part," Charley said.
His work, along with that of thousands of other nuclear weapons and uranium workers, is being recognized in a remembrance quilt created by the Cold War Patriots.
Cold War Patriots is a nonprofit membership organization of professionals and advocates who assist former uranium and nuclear weapons workers and families with information about government benefits and advocate for those resources.
The organization is displaying the quilt and interactive kiosk, which were installed today, at the Shiprock Chapter house.
The 5.6-foot-by-8.5-foot quilt displays the names of 258 former workers, along with their years of service and job sites.
"It's a memorial to folks that risk their health to protect those of us that are here," Cold War Patriots representative Larry Martinez said.
Felicia Hadley traveled from Chinle, Ariz., to see the quilt because her maternal and paternal grandfathers worked in uranium mines near the Arizona and Utah border.
Hadley said throughout the years, she has heard stories from both about the dangerous working conditions they faced.
"They would eat without washing their hands, then go back to work," she said adding they exposed family members to uranium dust when they brought home work clothes for washing.
Herbert and Elsie Keams came to the event to recognize Elsie Keams' father, James Jim, who worked in the Slick Rock mine.
After seeing the quilt and watching the information provided on the kiosk, Herbert Keams said the exhibit needs to be observed like the traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"These people didn't know what they were going into when they were asked to work in the mines and secure our country," he said.
The display will continue to be displayed at the chapter house until July 21 and can be seen from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.