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Learn Why American Indian Miners Deserve Workers Compensation

By Emma Cox

Mines exist far below the Colorado Plateau, and for decades American Indians have made a living by working in those mines. In order to obtain the soft, yellow uranium ore present, they must operate a drill that plunges deep into the rock. This uranium was used in the nuclear warheads that the US deployed around the country and that eventually helped win the Cold War.

Unfortunately, many of the American Indian miners themselves because casualties of the same Cold War. They are either dead or drying from cancer and other ailments blamed on exposure to radiation in the mines. Many have lost family members and even those that have survived continue to fight for their life.

The majority of these workers have arms that are covered with scars from being on dialysis treatments. Many of the workers suffer from kidney failure, and being on dialysis is the required treatment. The majority of workers blamed the drinking water that was in the mines, and traces of radioactive minerals in it have been proven scientifically.

In 1990 the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was passed by Congress. This law was passed for the purpose of helping the uranium miners and many others who have been suffering from work they’ve done in the mines. Keep in mind that most of this work was entirely in the service of the United State’s nuclear weapons program.

Every underground uranium miner was to be granted $100,000. Compensation would be based on detection of one of six lung diseases that are typically linked to radiation exposure. Yet hundreds of American Indian miners who are eligible to receive these funds have not received a dime of it.

American Indians find it difficult to fulfill the law’s requirements. The paperwork that is required for submitting a claim must be filled out and written in English. However, there are many Native Americans who do not speak or write English.

Only 96 of the 242 claims that have been filed through the Office of Navajo Uranium Workers have been approved. The total number of claims filed by former uranium miners approved by the Justice Department is 1,314. Another 1,316 miners’ applications have been denied.

A worker is required to provide check stubs for a record as proof of working there, plus more documentation is required to prove the specific amount of time the worker spent in the mines. Most of the workers who have been in the mines for decades don’t keep those kinds of records for their work. In addition, trying to recover the documentation through the authorities has been difficult.

The United States government first opened up the uranium minds on the Navajo Indian Reservation back in 1947. Jobs were scarce at that time so the new mine was a welcome opportunity for the residents of the reservation. The American Indians wanted to jobs notwithstanding the low wages and poor working conditions.

Another danger to be found in the mines was radon. Radon is a product of decaying uranium and is difficult to detect because it is colorless and odorless. Experts believe that it is this exposure to radon that leads to many of the lung problems that the government has placed on the compensation list.

Tribal officials and former miners plan to lobby Congress this fall for changes in the compensation law making it easier for former miners to get payments. One problem facing the government is the common idea among Navajo miners that they will receive compensation based only on their work.

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Cox, Emma "Learn Why American Indian Miners Deserve Workers Compensation." Learn Why American Indian Miners Deserve Workers Compensation. 24 Jun. 2010. 20 Aug 2014 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Cox, E (2010, June 24). Learn Why American Indian Miners Deserve Workers Compensation. Retrieved August 20, 2014, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Cox, Emma "Learn Why American Indian Miners Deserve Workers Compensation"

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