House Bill Would Fund Cancer Treatment on Tribal Lands

Apr 12, 2018

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.

Della Yazzie, who is partially blind, sits outside her home in Black Falls on the Navajo Nation. Her home is surrounded by several of the more than 500 abandoned uranium mines in the area.
Credit David Wallace/The Arizona Republic

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.