Former mine worker
warns of 'the sickness' if uranium mining returns to
By Marley Shebala, Navajo Times
April 12, 2007
MONUMENT VALLEY - To most people, Monument
Valley is a majestic and mysterious handiwork of Mother
To the Diné, it was the home
of the giants.
For 85-year-old Seth Bigman and his
family, it was also their home.
The front door of his home opens to
a picture postcard view of Monument Valley.
But the awesome beauty of his homeland
holds a dark memory.
It has lingered in his mind for 50 years.
But he does not readily share those memories until he
hears about the global resurgence of the uranium industry.
The rising price of uranium has renewed
national pressure on Navajo leaders to open their homeland
- once again - to uranium mining and milling.
The Wall Street Journal reported that
uranium was selling for $95 a pound at the end of March
- 10 times higher than what it was five years ago.
Moneyweek magazine reported that the
increasing value of uranium is because the demand "greatly
Bigman said that he went to the hospital
when he heard about the Radiation Exposure Compensation
According to the U.S. RECA Web site,
Congress passed the law on Oct. 5, 1990, to provide
for "compassionate payments" to individuals
who fell ill with cancer and other serious diseases
as a result of exposure to radiation during above-ground
nuclear weapons tests or while working in uranium mines.
The 1990 act provided payments in the
following amounts: $50,000 to individuals residing or
working "downwind" of the Nevada test site;
$75,000 for workers participating in above-ground nuclear
weapons tests; and $100,000 for uranium miners.
Bigman said that after his medical checkup,
the doctor said "there was nothing wrong with my
lungs. Because of that I didn't do anything. I just
said thank you because I was told there was nothing
wrong with me.
He said that after he mulled over the
$100,000 payment, he figured that in the Navajo way
if he continued to press for compensation that he was
preparing himself to die.
"So I just stopped compensation
process," he said. "I don't know if (uranium)
really has affected me or if that's possible because
ever since then I seem to be very susceptible to colds."
Bigman said his hacking cough, which
his wife shares, was because of a prolonged cold.
He points to the south and recalls the
names and locations of several mines and mills - Moonlight
Mine, Starlight, Industrial Uranium Company, and VCA
1 and 2.
He does not remember what VCA stands
for but he recalls that most of the mines were owned
and operated by businesses headquartered in Salt Lake
He remembers how miners and millers
finally learned, years after the operations closed,
how deadly uranium is.
"And," he said, "there's
no one to really speak on his behalf. It's just the
doctors at the hospital but I don't know if they can
Bigman shakes his head as he recalls
the cruel working conditions at VCA 1 and 2.
The Navajo boys in those two mines had
it the worst because there was no ventilation, he said.
"Here we were very much in contact
with uranium," he said. "We searched for uranium,
using Geiger counters. And then we'd take uranium samples
home. We had no choice. That's what we were instructed
Bigman remembered that at a mine northwest
of Goulding's Trading Post he and other Navajo workers
hauled equipment on their backs to the mine site.
Bigman said the workers loaded uranium
ore from the mine into gunnysacks that were tied shut
with wire and then hooked onto a cable line.
He said the gunnysacks full of "rocks"
would rocket down the cable line to a huge box at the
bottom of a red rock, where it would "explode"
into pieces, spraying dust over Navajo workers who were
reloading it into other containers.
That's hoe the mine was operated in
1958 and 1959, he said.
Bigman shrugs his shoulders over whether
his unusual number of colds is associated with his past
uranium mining. .
But he said if uranium mining were restarted
on the Navajo Reservation, the people would go through
"You can't help but think like
that," he said. "It seems like there was a
lot of deception surrounding the jobs. Back then there
was no information about how radiation is harmful. Nothing.
It's like sending or allowing this sickness into the
"If someone had said, 'It's like
this, this will harm you. This is a disease,' we might
not have worked," Bigman said. "But the company
and the Navajo Nation government from Window Rock were
saying, "'Give me, give me, give me money.' It's
like they were saying to us, 'Sacrifice your own relatives
He sighed and added, "I haven't
heard anyone honestly talking about that or advocating
for the victims, the miners, their families and the
medicine men and women whose ceremonies have been destroyed."
Bigman is Tódich'ii'nii (Bitter
Water clan), born for Yé'ii dine'é Táchii,nii
(The Giant People of the Red Running Into the Water
People clan). His cheii are Kinlichii'nii (Red House
clan). His nali are Hashk'aa hadzohi (Yucca Fruit Strung
Out In a LIne clan).