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Quilt honoring former uranium mine workers on display in Shiprock

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

 

SHIPROCK — After graduating from high school in Albuquerque, Bobby Charley started working full time in an underground uranium mine in Slick Rock, Colo.

A quilt honoring nuclear weapons and uranium mine workers will be on display until July 21 at the Shiprock Chapter house in Shiprock.

 

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.

Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chili"' Yazzie, left, and Gadii'ahi Chapter resident Bobby Charley look at the remembrance quilt that honors former nuclear weapons and uranium mine workers that was displayed on Thursday in Shiprock.

 

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.

Larry Martinez, a representative of the Cold War Patriots, talks about the nonprofit organization's work to advocate for benefits and compensation for former nuclear weapons and uranium mine workers on Thursday in Shiprock.

 

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.

Aneth, Utah, resident Herbert Keams watches a presentation about uranium mining in the Four Corners area in a kiosk set up by the Cold War Patriots on Thursday at the Shiprock Chapter house. Keams' father-in-law worked at a uranium mine in Slick Rock, Colo.

 

"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.