Yellow Fever Navajo Nation Tour


Sophie Rousmaniere, Executive Director of Issue Television, has worked as a filmmaker and freelance journalist in the U.S., Canada, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Guatemala, Pakistan, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand.

Yellow Fever Navajo Nation Tour

Date Posted: 
2013-10-15 12:45

Blog Series:

Photo Album: Yellow Fever Navajo Nation Tour

We drove to Kayenta late on the night of the 14th. Early in the morning people started showing up at the Kayenta Chapterhouse. You could recognize an old miner who looked through a huge three ring binder of information that proves he worked in the mines. Nurses started arriving and setting up booths and signs, it was a whizz of activity as we set up the PA and screen, people set up chairs and set out their handouts. We had planned this all by phone and mail, having sent posters to each venue ahead of time and arranged with various groups to attend, speak, etc. It had taken months to organize and it was a pleasure to finally meet some of the friendly voices on the other end of the phone. Lisa Allee is an Indian Health Service nurse and program director of “Community Uranium Exposure Journey into Healing”, a group that provides health screenings  for those who feel they may have been exposed to Uranium mines. Lisa had helped set up the tour and was now slammed with people checking in for health screenings, we got to shake hands and then we were each off to organize our teams. Someone was there to talk about Radiation Exposure Compensation Act amendments, the ‘Navajo Health Education’ group had an informative table about eating right and managing blood pressure. The Navajo Birth Cohort Study, Navajo Abandoned Mine Lands Office and Critical Nurse Staffing, an eldercare group had all come out to participate. The event started at 10 am and went until 4. We screened the film 3 times, each group spoke to the public in between screenings. I would say about 150 people attended that day’s event. The finale was a teacher who had earlier in the day asked to bring her class. The whole class filed in, watched, and filed out to their big yellow bus, each with a viewer guide in hand. The Nurses had scanned 40 people, twice what they usually see at events such as these. It had been a good day.

At each event our Yellow Fever table had information about Uranium, contamination of aquifers, RECA compensation as well as displaying a number of books about Uranium and uranium mining in the West. Later we added EPA handouts, a mailing list sign up and CNS swag to our information table. Finally at our last showing we had a booth to ‘write a letter to your council member or senator’ with instruction, envelopes and pens for public use.

The next day we headed to Monument Valley for an evening presentation. We got there early and drove around, enjoying the breathtaking views and making friends with local jewelry vendors. We visited the high school where the screening was to be later that eve and spent time with the principal, Sylvia Mcmillan, a recent transplant. Her job was to reform this struggling school that was noted to be one of the worst schools in the Nation. Their Theater was beautiful! We set up and waited. Turns out Monument Valley did not have such a stellar turn out – maybe 12 people attended. We had some great public discussion with some CNS Nurses who were very inspired by the film. The Navajo Birth Cohort study spoke as well. Our year and a half old girl Nova was lucky enough to rendezvous with an ice cream party being held by High school teachers for their kids. Yeay!

We spent the next two days at Navajo National Monument. We had a break on our tour and decided to find a place with shade to spend a few days in the outdoors. We pulled in to the campsite at night, and in the morning awoke to what looked like a miniature Grand Canyon! After hiking to see a view of the cliff dwelling ‘Betatakin’ when it started pouring on us. This high desert campground had trees and a cool breeze, a needed respite from the blaring sun of Monument Valley.

In Tuba City, we arrived at the Chapterhouse amidst a buzz of people setting up booths and stacking papers. Old folks started filing in. The Tuba City hospital had a table, Lisa Allee and Community Uranium Exposure Journey into Healing was all set up. Phil Harrison, long time Uranium activist arrived in addition to other elder care groups. We spent all day there screening the film, also screening a copy of Southwest Research and Information Service’s film Four Stories About Water, a film in Navajo language that speaks to water issues on the Navajo Nation. –(petroleum, uranium, arsenic.) Lisa Allee and I spoke to the group, and 20 people had health screenings done that day to see if they exhibit signs of uranium exposure.

The next day we drove to Chinle where we spent the morning hiking the Whitehouse Trail into Canyon De Chelly. We met some wonderful artists, promoted our screening at the chapterhouse that eve and got some exercise.

That evening we had a small turn out at the Chinle Chapterhouse, however the discussions after the film went long into the night. Secody Hubbard from the EPA joined us for the next five screenings, speaking to the audience about EPA’s involvement in cleaning up abandoned mines. Lisa Allee spoke, the Navajo Birth Cohort Study spoke as well. There were former miners and miners children there who had never gotten a chance to talk to anyone about their issue, they left with a number of needed resources and contacts. We served popcorn , tea and coffee.

We travelled next to Tsaile for a visit to Dine College. Maggie George, now the president of Dine College was our lead researcher on the film in 2008/2009. We spent some time with her in her beautiful office before exploring the campus and setting up for our screening. The campus was covered in Yellow Fever flyers so we were confident we would have a good turn out and we did. I think there were about 50 people there, which was pretty good for the first week of school. EPA, Navajo Birth Cohort Study and Lisa Allee of Indian Health Service were there to speak with their in depth power point presentations. There was some great discussion with some young ladies who had an environmental justice club and other passionate students interested in participating in the cause. We left copies of the film and our viewer guide at each school we visited (we recently got a call from the Tsaile Campus library saying that students were eager to see the film and that I should send multiple copies so no conflicts occurred among students!)

The drive from Tsaile to Window rock was absolutely stunning! We followed the Dine Bitah “Among the People” trail. The event was at the Navajo Nation Museum that evening. We had a good turn out, about 60 people and served coffee and popcorn. Discussions after the film were dynamic. Tom Reed from the Post ’71 miners spoke about compensation for his group (who are currently ineligible for compensation under RECA) and Madeline Roanhorse from the Navajo Abandoned Mine Lands Office was there – head of this large department, she spoke of a desire to help us get the film into the hands of every council member, senator and congressman.

The next day was Gallup. We arrived at the El Morro theater to find the Marqui saying ‘Issue TV presents YELLOW FEVER’ in big red letters. The promotion in Gallup was excellent – we had radio ads, newspaper ads, articles, posters, also segments of the film on a community radio station thanks to our colleague Marcos Ramirez who edited pieces for KNIZ. The Theater filled up fast. There were reps from EPA, Navajo Birth Cohort Study, Lisa Allee of IHS and Ron Garnanez’s group that provides Elder care for Uranium miners (Ron is Tina’s uncle who was featured in the film at sheep camp). Tina’s mother and father also were in attendance. Tina had to work and was unable to make any of our events. Her grandfather Willis Frank had died the day we were screening in Kayenta and Tina took off work to attend the funeral. Now she was locked in to work in Santa Fe. An aging miner, Frank was featured in the beginning of the film stating he spent 20 years underground. It was an overwhelmingly successful event. Like many other events there was one looming question that plagued the audience – where were the council members? Why hadn’t they come to the event? Where were the Navajo Nation representatives?

The Saturday Churchrock screening was a mixed bag. We had to start late because they forgot to open the building for us, so I had someone run around with me asking where the chapter officials lived in Churchrock. We finally got set up and screened the film and for the first time had some negative comments. These came from Larry King, a local resident who had helped us early on in our shooting. His segment had been cut and he was annoyed that the battle over Churchrock was not a more prominent part of the film.  Larry King’s niece was there – she had recently moved to work in the Navajo Nation president’s office. She told of some disturbing news –  HRI (the mining company trying to get ahold of Churchrock uranium) was wining and dining the council members, taking them on trips to Wyoming to show how well their mining methods worked. She showed concern over this and the potential for the corporation to sway the votes of politicians. They had already bought out the Churchrock officials with new cars, roads, homes, Christmas Turkeys. So we devised a plan for the future to go back, look at our old footage and come up with a short piece in Navajo Language that would be geared solely for the viewing pleasure of Navajo Council members. We are hoping to find time to working with Larry King on that early next year if possible.

We finally had a day off on Sunday….we visited Red Rock State Park, and headed up to Shiprock to find our friends from the Navajo Nation Dependents of Uranium workers committee. Gilbert Badoni, his wife Bertina, his brother Dahaana, his wife Mary and her mom Rita joined us at the local Chinese food buffet in Shiprock. We chatted and plotted and planned.

The next day we had an event at the Dine College Library – an all day health-screening event. The library was beautiful and new – we had all our groups represented except EPA. Perry Charley, Navajo Activist of three decades attended, showing his informative slideshow to the group. We did not have a great turn out – which we chocked up to the tremendous promotion going on around the later event in Shiprock at the Phil Thomas Theater  two days from then. Gilbert Badoni and Phillip Harrison had been promoting this event for weeks on the radio and otherwise.

The next day we taught a class at the Red Valley High School. This school is right in the heart of uranium country and most of these kids had lost family members due to uranium exposure. Beautiful murals of miners adorn the walls, their mascot is the miners, and they give plaques to all families who have lost loved ones to uranium exposure. They have walls with plaques of the names of living uranium miners in the area and local uranium miners who have passed.  We talked to students about making the film and screened pieces of other works. The school was plastered with home made posters announcing the film screening that night. We set up our equipment and the place filled up. Melvin Yazzie was there from the Navajo Abandoned Mine Lands Office, as well as the Navajo Birth Cohort study. Phillip Harrison, 30 year activist on the issue spoke to the group after the films. In a sad but touching ceremony two plaques were taken down from the living miners wall and given to family members – one of them was Frank Willis Plaque was given to Daisy Garnanez, Tina’s grandmother and sister of Willis who had passed away the week before.

Shiprock was to be our big day. By this time we were sleep deprived and delirious, but excited nonetheless. We knew this was going to be the best event so far. First however, we needed to show 30 minutes of the film six times to Shiprock high students in the fabulous and beautiful Phil Thomas Theater. We answered questions and spoke to the kids about uranium and filmmaking. We raced to a friends house to prepare for the evening event and after racing back we found the theater alive and buzzing! AML, IHS, Navajo Birth Cohort Study and others were there with tables of info.  The Theater had about 200 mostly elder Navajo folks, some in wheelchairs and on oxygen waiting for the show. We screened Four Stories About Water and Yellow Fever. We made Gilbert Badoni our MC for the evening and at this point he invited us on stage and introduced Jay, Nova, myself and Phil Harrison. Then Gilbert presented us with a Blanket and Shawl that had been donated as gifts for our work. We were so touched to receive these gifts after so many years of blood, sweat and tears to make the film that this was truly touching. Looking out at this community that has suffered so much, it was profound to have contributed to any part of their cause, and to know they felt we had done well in supporting them. What we usually tell people about the film is that we hope that it can be a tool for educators, lobbyists and health professionals, we explained this and what a great honor it was to participate in this fight. We told them that we know there are so many more stories to tell about the subject and that we hope that environmental and social justice will be served on the Navajo Nation. We thanked everyone and gave the floor to Phil Harrison who spoke for about a half an hour about the current political situation in Washington, DC concerning the upcoming votes on amendments to the radiation exposure compensation act. AML, IHS and others spoke. The crowd was eager to find out how to get a copy of Yellow Fever. This crowd barely has electricity, much less internet, so I knew getting them a copy would be near impossible, so we asked everyone who would like a copy to sign up and we would get one to them in the mail sometime soon. This was their story and they should have a copy. We gave away about 90 copies throughout the tour but there were never enough. About 40 people signed up for copies to be mailed.

Initially we thought that Shiprock was to be our last stop, but half way through the tour we got a call from San Juan College inviting us to screen the film there on the 29th. We headed to Farmington, but on the way we visited with Tina’s uncle Ron Garnanez. A wealth of information, Ron was able to avoid being sent to boarding school as a youth and learned traditional teachings from his grandmother. He runs a non-profit and takes care of the family herd of Angora Goats and Churro Sheep. Ron himself is a great topic for a film– he runs a weaving and traditional teachings non-profit that helps weavers promote their works (among many other things) and he has theories about the origins of Navajo Churro Sheep and the Navajo themselves, – he believes they both might come from Mongolia . . Next film – “Ron Garnanez goes to Mongolia to connect with his ancient roots!!”

In Farmington we met with Traci Halveson and set up our equipment. A small group of teachers who took us out to dinner at the Three Rivers Brewery before the screening. When we got back to the theater it was packed with about 110 people. After the film there were great questions from the audience, AML spoke and Mike Eisenfeld (featured in the film) was in attendance. Yet another successful screening!

It was great how the health and environmental professionals that worked with us on this tour really valued our film Yellow Fever as a tool for education and change. Their dedication to the tour was outstanding, Lisa Allee and the Navajo Birth Cohort Study attended 90% of the events. It was an amazing experience to bring this film back to the community it came from and to have such a great response. We have already received requests to have the film screen at other health events there, and we know that it will continue to do it’s work there. We hope to return to work with Larry King on a Navajo piece for council members and we have been invited by the Ojibwe Nation in Minnesota to screen the film there. We shall see….



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