Official National Day of Remembrance held in Shiprock

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SHIPROCK — George Howe remembers working at the uranium processing plant in Uravan, Colorado, in the 1960s and 1970s. Part of his work at the plant included sealing 55-gallon barrels that contained uranium ore.

"I loaded it up. Some barrels in the front and some in the back," he said about the shipments that were transported by large yellow trucks to Grand Junction, Colorado.

The former plant worker, who now lives in Kirtland, was part of a small turnout today for the Cold War Patriots' 10th annual Official National Day of Remembrance at the Phil L. Thomas Performing Arts Center here.

Cold War Patriots is a community resource organization that advocates for former nuclear weapons and uranium workers and is a division of Professional Case Management.

Each year, the U.S. Senate passes a bipartisan resolution that designates Oct. 30 as a day to honor the contributions and sacrifices made by those who worked with uranium or in nuclear weapons facilities. Shiprock was one of 11 communities where the Cold War Patriots held a remembrance event this month.

For Howe, the event is important because it recognizes uranium workers and serves as a reminder to federal lawmakers that many workers still lack compensation and benefits for their work.

"We're the ones that furnished the uranium by working in the mine and on top with the mill," he said.

Part of the uranium production occurred on the Navajo Nation, where more than 500 uranium mines were developed, and hundreds of tribal members worked in mines and mills near the reservation.

Field representatives for U.S. senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján shared statements from the congressional members during the event. Jim Dumont, a field representative for Heinrich, read the congressman's statement.

"Around 70 years ago, Navajo miners mined uranium with a pick ax and wheelbarrow for a mere 81 cents an hour. There were no safety precautions, and their efforts to support our national defense went unnoticed. It would be several decades before we, as Americans, recognized their sacrifice," Dumont read.

Heinrich's statement cited a federal bill to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to include those who worked in uranium mines after 1971 and those exposed to radiation from testing sites.

The effort received a boost on June 27 when the Senate Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing about the proposal.

Tribal members heard an update about the effort during a public meeting in Shiprock in August.

Brian Lee, field representative for Luján, said the congressman continues to push for a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee about the bill.

Participating in today's event provided fifth-grade student LaShona Lynn Jake — who serves as the royalty for the Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle Community Grant School south of Bloomfield — with the opportunity to learn more about the uranium workers.

"I'm glad you made our home safe. It's an honor to meet you all," Jake said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or nsmith@daily-times.com.

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