The Return of Navajo Boy


Friday, November 15, 2019
5-7 p.m.
Chazen Museum of Art

Join us for a 20th anniversary screening of the documentary film, The Return of Navajo Boy. A Sundance Film Festival & PBS selection, this documentary unlocks the mystery of a silent 1950s docudrama called “Navajo Boy” and exposes a hidden environmental crisis facing Navajo residents. This documentary tells the story of Elsie Mae Begay, who, while viewing the vintage film about her family in Monument Valley, identifies her baby brother who was adopted by white missionaries in the 1950s and never heard from again. She says his name is John Wayne Cly.

Elsie and her family’s story offers a different perspective on the history of the American West, showing the ways in which indigenous voices change the meaning of stereotypical images found in Hollywood Westerns, postcards, and, a propaganda film made by a uranium mining company. Against all odds, The Return of Navajo Boy, reunites a Navajo family and reveals the long-term legacies of radioactive contamination, all while uncovering the hidden history of the American West. A 15-minute epilogue follows the end credits.

A subsequent web series sponsored by the Bradshaw-Knight Foundation of Madison shows how this documentary triggered a federal investigation, the first EPA clean-up of an abandoned uranium mine in the Navajo Nation and a billion-dollar legal settlement.

A discussion featuring Navajo speakers will highlight the documentary's lasting impact:
  • James Adakai, President, Oljato Chapter, Navajo Nation
  • Elsie Mae Begay, Navajo Nation
  • John Wayne Cly, Navajo Nation
  • Jeff Spitz, Director & Co-Producer, Groundswell Films

    For more information on the film visit the web site.

    Presented in collaboration with:

    Outrider Foundation
    CHE logo
    Bradshaw Knight Foundation
    Wisconsin union Directorate Society & Politics Committee
    Groundswell Educational Films