Above: Director Jeff Spitz (right) with the media team from the Navajo Medical Center.
Published: April 21, 2010
The Northern Navajo Medical Center has begun showing “The Return of Navajo Boy” in its waiting rooms, which serve residents in the Shiprock, New Mexico area.
Groundswell Educational Films recently forged a partnership with the Center, which is the largest hospital on the reservation, that is now resulting in regular screenings of the film in the hospital, intended to increase awareness of the health impacts of uranium contamination in the area.
“Your film has proven it ability to give Navajos a voice in the larger society,” Lisa Allee the Program Director of the Journey to Healing uranium program at the Medical Center said in a letter to Groundswell. “We recognize your organization’s continued success in amplifying those voices in schools, colleges and mainstream media.”
Navajo Nation is home to more than 1,000 cold-war era abandoned uranium mines and many of these sites still contain hazardous materials which threaten the lives of nearby Navajo residents. “The Return of Navajo Boy” features one Navajo family who has suffered from the legacy of the mining. Elsie Mae Begay, a Navajo grandmother in the film, lived in a hogan (traditional Navajo house) partially constructed of uranium debris for example. Her son died at age 24 due to brain cancer.
“This is an unprecedented step for the Indian Health Service,” Navajo Boy director Jeff Spitz said in reaction. “It stems from Henry Waxman who opened up the Sunday LA Times in November, 2006 and read about Elsie Mae Begay’s uranium house and a litany of uranium mining legacies plaguing Navajo families. A real groundswell of concern evolved out of Elsie’s cry for help.”
Officials believe that the film is a potent tool to spread awareness about the old mines and the dangers they pose. At the end of April, the Indian Health Service kick off a mobile health initiative designed to reach remote Navajo communities which do not live near traditional hospitals.
The Northern Navajo Medical Center is located at the “four corners”– an area where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado meet. According to officials, the Center teats about 40 residents per day at its in-patient facilities, and about 400 out-patient.
Update: The Indian Health Service is now using “The Return of Navajo Boy” as part of a “Wellness on Wheels” initiative all around Navajo Nation to raise awareness. Read about the first Community Uranium Exposure: Journey to Healing screening.