Sunday, November 27, 2011

Yellow Dirt - Judy Pasternak

Summary from B&N: From the 1930s to the 1960s, the United States knowingly used and discarded an entire tribe of people as the Navajos worked, unprotected, in the uranium mines that fueled the Manhattan Project and the Cold War. Long after these mines were abandoned, Navajos in all four corners of the Reservation (which borders Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona) continued grazing their animals on sagebrush flats riddled with uranium that had been blasted from the ground. They built their houses out of chunks of uranium ore, inhaled radioactive dust borne aloft from the waste piles the mining companies had left behind, and their children played in the unsealed mines themselves. Ten years after the mines closed, the cancer rate on the reservation shot up and some babies began to be born with crooked fingers that fused together into claws as they grew. Government scientists filed complaints about the situation with the government, but were told it was a mess too expensive to clean up. Judy Pasternak exposed this story in a prizewinning Los Angeles Times series.

Shocking. My sister said it would be when she recommended it, and she was not wrong. My brother-in-law is Navajo, and I have always been fascinated with Native American culture, wishing I had such deep roots and abiding family ties.

But what the government allowed to happen to the Navajos…all for the sake of uranium…is appalling. The U.S. government is supposed to be a protector for these people. Instead, from 1930 -1960 they exploited the Navajos and their resources. And the implications of this exploitation are still being felt today.

I had never heard of this before reading this book. There were a lot of technical and political items in the book that made it slightly more difficult to read. But Pasternak also tells the story through the eyes of The People, the Dine, who experienced uranium mining and its after-effects first hand.

The government again clearly proves that it is not capable of taking care of anyone – as government interests will always come first.

I recommend reading this book. It will open your eyes to something that is not even touched upon in our history books.

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