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House Bill Would Fund Cancer Treatment on Tribal Lands

David Wallace/The Arizona Republic

Tribal members suffering from cancer because of uranium contamination have few options for local care. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, a bill introduced in Congress would provide federal grants for treatment programs on often-remote reservations.

Under the bill, $10 million a year would go to tribal communities affected by uranium mining or milling in order to build local cancer clinics. According to its sponsor, Arizona Democrat Tom O’Halleran, there are no cancer facilities on reservation lands anywhere in the U.S., and the Indian Health Service has no budget for cancer treatment.

"There’s a serious hole in the tribal healthcare system that makes it increasingly difficult for folks to get on-site cancer treatment … People have to drive hundreds of miles just to get some treatment and that’s just not the way it should be," he says.

O’Halleran calls tribal cancer rates a growing health crisis, and says his bill would create a dedicated source of funding for treatment programs.

Nearly 30 million tons of uranium were mined on and near the Navajo Nation during the Cold War, leaving more than 500 abandoned mines. Recent studies have shown high levels of contamination in Navajo homes, and far higher concentrations of uranium in the bones of those who live near the sites than the U.S. population.

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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