'Cowgirl Days, Frybread Nights' A Fun Read
By Gaye Brown de Alvarez
The Independent, Gallup N.M.
Saturday, Dec. 11th, 2010, page 25
WINDOW ROCK – When newspaper reporter Kathy Helms decided to write a book about her experiences in Navajoland, she knew her efforts would include uranium, water and some of the social ills prevalent in one of the only places left in the U.S. that still can be considered a third-world country.
You can't leave it out.
But you can make it humorous and fun to read, and that is what Helms did in her book “Cowgirl Days, Frybread Nights,” Kathy L. Helms, 2010, Blurb Inc.
“You always hear about 'freedom of the press,'” Helms writes in her preface. “What they don't tell you is that the freedom usually ends when you step on the all-powerful toes of politicians, Big Business, Big Brother or advertisers.”
Helms studied journalism at East Tennessee State University, against her mother's wishes. Her mother called journalism “witchcraft.”
She combines witchcraft with her extensive knowledge of uranium mining in the book, where she tells the reader about the subjects she has covered for the Independent. She has been a reporter, based in Tuba City and Fort Defiance for longer than a decade and is well-known for her stories on uranium, water, and Navajo issues. These issues have changed over the years and she keeps on top of the change and throws into her book many of her flashes of insight, her dreams and her connection with Keanu Reeves.
Keanu Reeves helps pull the book together in some kind of weird parallel analogy and brings in the humor full-front. Somehow, Helms connects uranium mining and “The Matrix” together.
Helms discusses tribal connections, Navajo politicians, Council sessions and horseback rides through some of the more desolate parts of the reservation. She writes about the legacy of uranium and what it has done to the Navajo people.
Although uranium mining has been banned on the Navajo reservation, it is still a big part of Dine' life, with piles of mining waste still close to communities and a huge clean-up process going on north of Churchrock. She tells the story of Phil Harrison of the Blue Gap Chapter, and his attempt to lead the fight to get compensation for Navajo radiation victims.
“Phil, who is a member of the Navajo Nation Council, grew up in Red Valley in uranium mining camps, watching children playing on waste piles and drinking water from the mines. The water also was used to mix infant formula,” she writes in her chapter titled, “Winning the Battle, Losing the War.”
“We are not anti-uranium,” Helms quotes Linda Evers of Milan, a Post-'71 uranium miller who formerly worked for Kerr-McGee and United Nuclear Homestake. “We are anti-killing people to get uranium. There's a big difference.”
Helms writes about her experiences with medicine men, who help her recover from sickness; aliens, who seem to have an effect on the local population; and of course, Keanu Reeves, who figures into almost every scenario.
Helms finds odd medicine bundles stuffed in her overheating vehicle and under her residence and believes people are trying to “witch” her for some of the stories she wrote and her activities on the reservation. The medicine men help her recover from the witching and she knows now not to touch the bundles. “That's the 'black witchcraft' mother warned me about,” she writes.
The book is fun to read, especially if you're familiar with this area, or have lived here for some time.
“Cowgirl Days, Frybread Nights” is $12.95 (shipping is extra) and available for order at www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1774508.
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