Fern Benally

Fern Benally by Semester in the West
Fern Benally, a photo by Semester in the West on Flickr.

Fern Benally
Black Mesa Community Advocate
Black Mesa, Arizona
October 11

Fern Benally is a member of the Navajo Tribe. She left her home at Black Mesa, near Kayente, Arizona, to attend Grand Canyon University where she received a degree in nursing. Her training as a nurse gives her a unique perspective on the mining near the Black Mesa area. As a nurse, she understands the health effects of coal mining ––respiratory problems, pulmonary disease, black lung disease, and cancer. Upon her return to Black Mesa ten years ago, she developed asthma from the constant dust inhalation and now carries an inhaler at all times.

There are two mines located near Black Mesa: the Black Mesa Mine which was shut down in December 2005, and the Kayenta Mine which is currently in operation. Both mines are owned by the multi-billion dollar company Peabody Energy, who promised running water and electricity to residents of Black Mesa in exchange for impaired visibility and coal particulates in the air. Fern told us that this promise was made 45 years ago but there is currently no running water or electricity for the residents. While the mine provides jobs for residents and royalties for the tribe, the trade off is their health.

By Aviva Prager

About semesterinthewest

Semester in the West

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