The Return of Navajo Boy epilogue
'Navajo Boy' returns
Uranium undercurrent surfaces in The Return of Navajo Boy epilogue
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK Producers of the 2000 documentary, The Return of Navajo
Boy, were back on the Navajo Reservation Tuesday to showcase an epilogue
to the acclaimed film before Navajo Environmental Protection Agency staff.
Jeff Spitz of Chicago and Bennie Klain, a member of the Navajo Nation,
presented a screening of the 57-minute film and a rough cut of the new
15-minute epilogue featuring the Cly family of Monument Valley, Utah.
The group is headed to Shiprock today for a 10 a.m. screening at Shiprock
Elsie Mae Cly Begay, an elder and central figure in the film, hitchhiked
Monday along with her cousin Rose Tyler from Tylers home in Cross Canyon
to Window Rock to attend Tuesdays screening.
Shes never missed a plane, never missed a connection for an airport,
never been late for an appointment in eight years traveling all over the
country, Spitz said. Last year, he was told that Begay had a ride from
Monument Valley to a screening in Flagstaff. When she arrived, she
remarked, Four rides.
The film has traveled all over the country since its premiere, airing on
television networks in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and other
Those screenings attract a lot of interested people who want to hear the
story about The Return of Navajo Boy, Spitz said.
The epilogue is for the purpose of screening and speaking engagements that
Elsie does at colleges and museums and at cultural events around the
country. We want to provide a short little film that says heres what
happened after The Return of Navajo Boy.
They dont necessarily know that theres a uranium issue sort of surfacing
through the film.
In 1978 following her divorce, Begay and her children moved into a hogan in
Monument Valley where they lived for about three years. During filming of
the documentary, Spitz became concerned about potential health hazards
associated with the hogan, which was made of highly radioactive material.
Fortunately, Begay was living in a house about 30 feet away by the time
U.S. EPA tested the hogan for radiation in January 2000. Nine months later
she received a letter from EPA stating that radiation levels in the hogan
far exceeded EPA cleanup levels.
Our current policy is to clean up sites to approximately 2 microrem per
hour (uR/hr) above background radiation levels, which are estimated to
range from 8 to 12 uR/hr in your area. ... The levels that we measured in
the stone-floor hogan near your home ranged from 800 to 1,000 uR/hr.
Given that, we recommend that people stay out of that hogan. We also
recommend that the hogan be removed from the area so that no one is exposed
to those levels of radiation, EPA wrote.
Begay consulted Doug Brugge, Ph.D, M.S., who advised her that living in the
hogan would result in an exposure that is about 44 times larger than is
considered acceptable by EPA or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
According to the information she provided him, children played on the floor
and occupants slept either on mattresses directly on the floor or on
All these scenarios mean that heads, bodies and reproductive organs rested
for lengthy periods directly on the source of radiation, he said.
In the epilogue, Begay states that one son, Lewis, had trouble with his
brain. Thats what took him. Another son died of lung cancer.
In 2001, the radioactive hogan was demolished; however, radioactive waste
piles located nearby have not been cleaned up to this day, according to
If they couldnt remove all of the contaminated soil from around there,
they could have at least put up a sign and a fence to keep the little kids
from running around in there.
They didnt put up a fence or a sign. They just left everything out and
never bothered to come back.
Begay is speaking out in hope that cleanup will continue not only at her
home, but at others across the Navajo Nation.
I just want that uranium thats out there removed even the cable thats
been there I dont know how many years now. Thats the only thing I want,
is just remove all the waste the cable too.
I live there and my kids was living there and my aunt and her kids too,
and grandkids. I have grandkids too. In the winter we tell them not to go
there, but they always go there and play over there, even in the snow. They
slide there where the waste is, she said.
Zoe Heller of U.S. EPA viewed Tuesdays screening.
I think their work is fantastic. I think education is what the world
really needs and the country needs to address these issues and help make it
better, she said.
The purpose of the epilogue is to empower Begay to tell her story
effectively to people engaged in uranium legacy issues, Spitz said.
We want our film to continue to work as a magnet for audiences and a way
of getting people to talk across cultures, because we all share
responsibility for our energy and we need to know how much is being paid
for that what the real costs are.
If people are going to be proposing nuclear for the future, they should
also be considering where the uranium is going to come from. And in most
cases, all over the world, it comes from underneath the feet of indigenous
The Return of Navajo Boy, a 2000 documentary produced by Jeff Spitz and
Bennie Klain, begins with the appearance of a 1950s film reel which, after
40 years, led to the return of a long lost brother to his Navajo family.
The Cly family has lived more than six decades in Monument Valley, Utah,
and has an extraordinary history in pictures.
Since the 1930s, family members have appeared as unidentified subjects in
countless photographs and films shot in Monument Valley, including
postcards, Hollywood westerns such as John Waynes The Searchers, and a
rare home-movie by legendary director John Ford.
In 1997 a white man identifying himself as Bill Kennedy from Chicago showed
up in Monument Valley with a silent film called Navajo Boy, which his
late father produced in the 1950s. Seeking to understand his fathers work
on the Navajo Reservation, Kennedy returned the film to the people in it.
When Cly family matriarch, Elsie Mae Cly Begay, watched the film, she was
amused to see herself as a young girl and delighted in identifying other
family members: her late mother Happy Cly and infant brother, John Wayne
Cly, who was adopted by white missionaries in the 1950s and never heard
With the return of Navajo Boy, Elsie seized the opportunity to tell her
familys story. Amid a variety of still photos and moving images from the
40s and 50s, the films producers allow the family to tell their story in
their own voices, shedding light on the Native side of picture making and
uranium mining in Monument Valley.
When John Wayne Cly, who was married and living in Zuni, learned about The
Return of Navajo Boy from a story in the Gallup Independent, he contacted
the Clys in hopes that they were his family. The Return of Navajo Boy
documents John Wayne Clys unforgettable return to his blood brothers and
sisters in an emotional reunion in Monument Valley.
Narrated by Elsies son Lorenzo Begay, The Return of Navajo Boy was the
official Sundance Film Festival 2000 selection.