Synthesis/Regeneration 10   (Spring 1996)

Uranium Mining and the Laguna People

Dorothy Purley, interviewed by Susan Lee
July 1995 in Paguate Village on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation

My name is Dorothy Ann Purley, I have lived here in Paguate all my life, I worked at a time when the mine was in process and not very long ago I found out I was diagnosed with cancer. Ever since, having to go through chemotherapy, my health has really gone down, my immune system is not up to par any more. I just got back from a conference in Alaska; my Native American people there are dying out from cancer there too, as in the village of Paguate.

I worked eight years—everywhere...never was a word that there was contamination of radiation.

I've been working on health surveys. Wherever you go, people say it's because of the uranium mine; we were never told what precautions to take...I worked there and I was never told how to be prepared to be in a safe way where...this cancer would have never come's up to God with whatever he gives you but I blame it on the mine because I worked eight years—everywhere—I worked as a security guard; as a safety office receptionist; at the hobo where they loaded the ore to transport it to the mill site in Grants; at the crusher.

When the crusher got stuck we were down at the bottom using hammers to break the rocks down so the crusher could start going back up into processing, and I helped haul the ore from P9 where they were mining underground the richest ore that was coming out. We hauled back to the ore cars to have it transported. We came home, went to bed, never was a word that there was contamination of radiation. (I) just realized when I came to deal with this cancer, I found out. This cancer has really taught me a lot...and gotten me to a lot of places and I've realized what cancer really means.

When I first realized (I had cancer), I went (to have a free mammogram) and they realized I had two lumps on my right breast...I was whisked away... and put on a machine...the Doctor had spotted two tumors. A few days later I was called to say I was going to have... surgery done in Grants. I felt there was nothing wrong when I walked out (but) a few days later (the doctor informed me that I had lymphoma).

I had to get inputs from by son-in-law (to decide whether or not to have chemotherapy) whole family went with me; this is where I really stood strongly, because my children, my father, my sister were all for me. My dad felt that it could have been him instead of me. He kept telling me, "Why is it you, my dear bady?...I don't have very much more to go, I should be leaving pretty soon..."

When I went for my first (chemotherapy treatment), it was like, "Am I going to see another tomorrow?" A lot of things went through my mind...I usually had to stay in Albuquerque a day and a half, in case something went wrong...they explained the medicine to me, it was a bunch of poison they were feeding me through my veins...A week after the first chemotherapy, my hair started falling out. I was in the shower washing my hair and when I (saw) I had a whole handful, I started screaming and my daughter came running...Within a month I became completely bald... With the help of the prayers my people were sending me, I think that's what really kept me going. At times I feel like giving up, but...I have my grandchildren to think of.

(The mine operated in Laguna Pueblo) for 30 years...I think I was the third woman that got hired. They used to blast sometimes four times a day. When there was no wind, that sulfur that they put in the blasting powder would just kind of sit over the village and sometimes we had to cover our food. We...Indians dried our meat and some of our vegetables out in the sun; we never realized how much contamination there was in the air til we realized cancer was the main thing killing our people here in Paguate.

We...Indians dried our meat and some of our vegetables out in the sun; we never realized how much contamination there was in the air...

I miscarried three times; that's what really broke my heart. After that, I almost bled to death, I had to have surgery. There's quite a few that have had miscarriages and we have had deformed babies and 2 or 3 months ago there was a cat that had a litter that didn't have no tails at all...We've had mentally retarded children here , and we have so much allergies. I have asthma too and bronchitis. Once when you come to find out what radiation can do...going to these conferences, you find out. But people are scared to ask, but some of these people that are so highly educated want to hide a lot of stuff, not letting us know.

We were asked to give a document...I stood up at a village meeting and told them, "I'm living proof; I'm standing here, I have cancer, what more do you want?" We all know that our people are dying of cancer. In order to push something, you have to have a 100 % backing from your community because only half a dozen (can't) do what has to be done. And that's why when I'm called to go somewhere, I go because I want people to know what's going on on the Laguna reservation.

Any company that wants to come in, they better tell us what to expect, because other than that, it's just no more. We were told there is some company that wants to come back to re-open the mine. I said, "No way. Not over my dead body are they going to re-open. We've gone through enough." And what more do they want? We're losing our Laguna people, just like the Alaskan people...

Right now, I'm glad the mine is closed, and the reclamation they did I don't appreciate. It makes me so sick just to ride through where once the mine was because I worked there and now I'm dealing with cancer. And I think it was very unfair for the companies hiding all the secrets and not being man or honest enough to say, "This is what you're going to expect. Are you going to accept or not?" ...the new generation... should be taught...I feel my life is cheated on right now.

The reason nobody opened their mouth was because the bread and butter were placed on the table every weekend. Money is the maker of all evil. It's very sad what we're going through. People are crying out for help. One day, with God's will, that will straighten out...

I've lost my mother, a brother who left four children. The youngest one didn't know who his father was. He keeps asking his older brothers, "How did it feel to have our dad around?" It's sad for a child to ask, how would it feel to have your dad to help you with problems, to hug you and to hold you, to tell you, "I love you very much." I still feel sad about it. (Her brother worked 30 years for Anaconda, and she believes he died of undiagnosed stomach cancer, like their mother, who suffered severe stomach pain and wasted away before her death, which was attributed to heart failure. The nearest hospital was in Albuquerque.)

A lot of these things have to come to the surface, especially through the physicians that diagnose you with something that maybe they don't want you to know, but we do need to know. We need to be aware of what health hazards have accumulated on the reservation.

The ore was transported by (the) Santa Fe (railroad), to the mill site. No one has had the idea to sweep along the tracks to find out what kind of contamination (is there)—the crusher was on the east side of the village. The wind blows from the east, and we suffered a lot and the smell was really something terrible...we had to go through all this hell; to me it was like during the Vietnam war, how this blasting-you could actually hear the rocks fall back to the surface. There was a lot of cracks (in the houses); the homes have been jarred so much, they're hard to put back together...we were told it didn't have to do with the mine blasting, but some of us Native Americans aren't dumb! We know what technology is,'s just a shame how we Indians are crying out for help, yet DOE doesn't understand. I think we need to push.

Anyway, I sit here, day after day in Paguate, still suffering. I'm proud to be a Native American Indian from Laguna, who was diagnosed with cancer, whose life has been shortened. But I'm going to keep struggling for better tomorrows, & I hope to continue to do what I have to, to be happy and say what I have to.

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