Deadly water Elders recall forced removal to contaminated land

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Katherine Peshlakai, Faye Willie and Elsie Tohannie have a lot in common, besides their years.Following the Long Walk in the 1860s and the imprisonment of Navajos at Bosque Redondo, their families settled in an area later known as Wupatki National Monument. Recognition of Navajo occupancy was not included in enabling legislation that created the park, and in the early 1960s, the families were kicked out.

Driven from their winter sheep camps at Wupatki and across the Little Colorado River to make way for the national monument near Flagstaff, they settled in Black Falls, an area contaminated in the 1950s by radioactive fallout from above-ground atomic testing at Nevada Test Site.

They located their homes near abandoned uranium mines where ore was dug and used to fuel the Cold War. They drank from springs and wells contaminated with uranium and arsenic and dug water holes in the river to water their livestock. Now, after more than 40 years, some of the “Forgotten People,” as they are known, finally have safe drinking water.


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