Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

January 5, 2023

Remembering Pueblo Dorothy Purley: Warnings of Merchants of Death

Dorothy Purley, Laguna Pueblo

Remembering Pueblo Dorothy Purley: Warnings of Merchants of Death

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

Before she died of cancer, Dorothy Purley of Laguna Pueblo described driving a uranium truck at the Jackpile Mine. Dorothy said the Pueblo workers were never told what the yellow radioactive dust would do to them. The radioactive dust blew onto their drying meats, and it poisoned the grasses that the animals eat.

The U.S. government knew that the radiation would kill the Laguna and Acoma Pueblos working in the mines, but never told them. They were never given protective clothes.

Today we honor Dorothy Purley, who spent her last years speaking sweetly and sharing the truth.

We remember Dorothy today as the Fallon bombing range expansion nears approval in Nevada, and Paiute and Shoshone go to court to protect Thacker Pass from lithium mining in Northern Nevada.

Like the radioactive dust blowing from the uranium mines, the toxins of warfare and bombing will spread across the lands, poisoning the little animals, and in the cycle of life, poison the larger animals.

Lithium mining at Thacker Pass will deplete and poison the sparse water, and destroy the land where the gentle creatures make their homes, the rabbits, bighorn sheep, and deer, and destroy the earth where the rare plants grow.

Thacker Pass is where Paiute were massacred, and Lithium Americas wants to gouge out the earth.

Dorothy warned the people before she died.

"What I am now is a bag of bones standing before you," said Dorothy Purley, on Laguna Pueblo in 1999.

Dorothy drove a truck and worked as an ore crusher at the Jackpile Mine in Laguna Pueblo.

"We say we love Mother Earth. Then, why are these things happening on the reservations? She is your best friend."

Dorothy miscarried three children. Her brother had cancer and other family members are victims of leukemia and are diabetics on dialysis.

"There are so many people that have died, people that I worked with at the mine. There are children who never knew their fathers."

Unable to halt her flow of tears, Dorothy said, "Look at me. Some of my friends don't even recognize me. But I thank the Good Lord and Mother Earth who is helping me stand on her."

Dorothy told the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference in 1999 that the U.S. government had known since 1935 of the extreme dangers of radiation from uranium ore.

"The explosives that they used to dismantle the uranium caused our homes to become unsafe. Our village was just 1000 feet from the mining area. We could smell the sulfur and other blasting compounds that they used in their explosives.

"They usually conducted their blasts during our noontime and evening meals, when our village women would dry their fruit and vegetable during the harvest season. A fine layer of dust would cover our food, but we simply rinsed it off not knowing that it was toxic. In 1975 I became an employee at the Anaconda Uranium mine.

"I was now a single parent and had to support my daughter. I was employed as a truck driver and hauled high-grade uranium ore to the milling site. I was exposed to high amounts of radiation and did not know this at that time.

"We would eat our lunches while sitting atop of the high-grade ore. We were never advised of any safety techniques or given any safety equipment at the time. During my employment at the time, I never realized that there was any danger and was never advised about any of the harmful effects of radiation.

"They never told us that they were going to use this uranium to make a weapon of mass destruction. The company never gave us any information whatsoever. Just recently, our tribe has learned that the government and the mining operation knew about the danger that mining uranium ore would bring.

"As early as 1935 when the mine first opened, there were documents from scientists warning them to minimize exposure to the uranium ore." 

Dorothy also appears in the film 'Trespassing,' exposing the atomic bomb industry in Indian country. Trespassing was censored at film festivals around the world when it was released.

In the film, Dorothy says, "When they used to blast, all that yellow stuff would come towards the village. You know, we Native Indians have the things like drying food out in the sun, and, our meats and stuff."

"And yet, we breathed it and ate it. And, you know, we weren't aware of it. I feel betrayed because we weren't really told. We weren't really made aware of what we were getting ourselves into. I think if the mine hadn't opened, I don't think any of our lives would have been in jeopardy at all."

"They've destroyed enough of our land."

"Why are they doing this? Are they trying to get rid of us?

Read Dorothy's statement in Holland:

The Jackpile uranium mine opened in 1953 and operated until 1982. The Jackpile was one of the largest uranium mines ever developed and mined in the United States.

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