The Fight for Legal Compensation for Navajo Health:

There are many examples in which the Navajo people, those most affected by this uranium contamination, have resisted the negative impacts that the mining has brought to their health. In the 1960s, after the association between lung cancer and uranium mining was known, many Navajo widows gathered together to “talk about their husband’s deaths and how they had died.”[1]This is a prime example of the grassroots organizing for environmental justice, as the resources the women had to organize were incredibly minimal yet their voice made it to Washington, D.C.[2] It was largely because of their scientific and political organizing that catalyzed the passage of the Radon Exposure Compensation Act in 1990.[3]Additionally, Harry Tome, “a tribal council member and later employee of the minerals department of the tribe,” significantly contributed to the passage of the act.[4] Labor unions were very involved in fighting for the rights of coal miners, these efforts were not inclusive of the Navajo Nation.[5] So, “while the unions were a source of information and advocacy, they were not involved in the organizing of the Navajo people, which proceeded primarily on the reservation at the community level.[6]

Tome’s fight for legal health compensation did not quit, even though a bill he tried to propose in Congress in 1973 to “extend black lung benefits to uranium miners,” did not pass in.[7] In 1978, Tome began working with Stuart Udall, the secretary of interior under President John F. Kennedy, to “file 2 lawsuits in 1979 seeking damages for uranium miners.”[8] Tome and Udall tried to argue for compensation for the Navajo miners using the 1868 Treaty, which they hoped “might overcome the judicial bias in favor of the federal immunity from lawsuits.”[9] Unfortunately, “the court ruled in 1984 that the U.S. government was immune.”[10] Throughout the process, many Navajo uranium miners testified to Congress about their suffering.[11] The organizing that took place in the 1980s, in addition to the “status of the Navajo People as a sovereign nation, provided the foundation for passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act,” in 1990.[12] This historical analysis of the efforts of uranium miners to be included in federal matters is yet another example of the struggles that Native Americans have encountered with the U.S. government, who should have taken their lives into consideration.


Today, many Navajo activist groups, such as the Eastern Navajo Diné, are dedicated to protecting the reservation’s water, other land resources, and health of people affected by uranium contamination.[13] Many activists groups in the Navajo Nation continue to fight for the EPA to clean up the abandoned mines. The video below is an interview with Leona Morgan, a coordinator with the Eastern Navajo Diné, who discusses how history relates to her life living in the Navajo Nation.

[Above] “After Decades of Uranium Mining, Navajo Nation Struggles With Legacy of Contamination,” (2012). Courtesy of Democracy Now!, Video Link.

Click here for the link to the Facebook page for the Eastern Navajo Diné organization.

Assistance Within:

Darlene Arviso, who was born and raised on the Navajo Nation reservation, dedicates her life to generosity by helping provide water to the Navajo Nation. She is called the Water Lady, because she loads up a truck and delivers water to over 250 families a month. Arviso is an example of the organizing and efforts of those within the Navajo Nation to provide access to water to one another, something that we often take for granted. The video below gives more insight about the Navajo Water Lady, Darlene Arviso.

[Above] “The Navajo Water Lady,” (2015). Courtesy of CBS Sunday Morning, Video Link.

Water Education:

Education about uranium contamination in the Navajo Nation continues to be a challenge.[14] Many people are not aware of the health impacts of drinking the contaminated water, especially since you cannot see or taste the contamination.[15] Diné No Nukes is an organization that seeks to educate people in the Navajo Nation about the health impacts of uranium contamination.[16] Their efforts address what the Navajo people themselves can do to protect their right to water.[17]

Click here for more information about Diné No Nukes.


[1] Brugge, Doug and Goble, Rob, “The History of Uranium Mining and the Navajo People.” American Journal of Public Health 92, no. 9 (2002): 1415.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, 1416.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid, 1417.

[13] “After Decades of Uranium Mining, Navajo Nation Struggles with Devastating Legacy of Contamination,” Democracy Now, October 11, 2012.

[14] Brett Schlesinger and Neha Shastry. “Living Without Water: Contamination Nation.” VICE News. November 24, 2015, accessed November 30, 2016.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.