Published: December 14, 2009
The Return of Navajo Boy has unlocked an investigative LA Times series about the affects of uranium mining on Navajos.
Fifty years ago, cancer rates on the reservation were so low that a medical journal published an article titled “Cancer immunity in the Navajo.”
Back then, the contamination of the tribal homeland was just beginning. Mining companies were digging into one of the world’s richest uranium deposits, in a reservation spanning parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
From 1944 to 1986, 3.9 million tons of uranium ore were chiseled and blasted from the mountains and plains. The mines provided uranium for the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to develop an atomic bomb, and for the weapons stockpile built up during the arms race with the Soviet Union.
Today, there is no talk of cancer immunity in the Navajos.
The cancer death rate on the reservation — historically much lower than that of the general U.S. population — doubled from the early 1970s to the late 1990s, according to Indian Health Service data. The overall U.S. cancer death rate declined slightly over the same period.