The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Could Help the Navajo Nation

This op-ed urges young people to pressure the U.S. government to compensate Native communities for radiation poisoning.

This piece was originally published in Teen Vogue, by Julia Cooper, WAND intern.


Imagine a world where you can’t safely live in your home, drink your water, or sit in your yard. Even the dirt is dangerous. That’s happening in the United States right now, and it’s been happening for nearly 80 years. But it doesn’t have to continue this way, and our generation can help make things right.

Starting in the 1940s, Navajo land in the Southwest has been targeted for nuclear weapons testing and uranium mining, making the community’s homes, land, and water radioactive.

“The tragic legacy of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation continues to this day, perhaps to an extent that would not have occurred if it weren’t taking place in a rural, American Indian community,” said Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez in testimony to Congress this March. Again, it seems, Native lives and land have been deemed disposable.

The Navajo, also known as the Diné, living in radiation-contaminated homes for decades or forced off their land are still grappling with health problems. Many have died of cancer, kidney failure, and conditions related to uranium contamination, as NPR has reported. This public health crisis was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit Native communities like the Diné particularly hard thanks to the lack of health care access, a legacy of colonization. Without financial support from the government, many struggle with failing health without adequate treatment. As Senator Ben Ray Luján testified, one Navajo woman even asked him, “Are you waiting for us all to die?