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Yvette Cabrera has won the 2023 Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award for a powerful Center for Public Integrity narrative she wrote last year about the personal battle a Navajo activist faced as he sought accountability for federal government uranium mining that has sickened generations of his people.

The award, administered by Columbia University and honoring the late New York Herald Tribune reporter, recognizes “outstanding achievements in reporting on racial or religious hatred, intolerance or discrimination in the United States.” 

Over the course of four decades, an estimated 30 million tons of uranium ore was extracted from land that is part of or near the Navajo Nation. Cabrera started out reporting on the work Earl Tulley was doing to hold the federal government accountable for high rates of cancer stemming from the federal push to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons, as well as to get mine waste cleaned up. It became a story about Tulley’s own discovery of and battle with cancer in the context of his work.

Cabrera’s investigation, Columbia Journalism School wrote in its announcement of the award, “is a story of unbreakable courage in the face of systemic cruelty.”

“I’m so honored to receive this recognition from the Columbia Journalism School faculty for a story that has meant so much to me,” Cabrera said. “In the midst of a pandemic that isolated so many of us from each other, I had the privilege of interviewing Earl Tulley, who understands intrinsically how deeply rooted the Navajo Nation’s stories are to the land. Every conversation we had, every experience he relayed, reinforced the importance of building community via our words despite our struggles.”

She added: “In the midst of his painful journey to battle cancer, he spoke to me because he remained steadfastly committed to healing the land he cares so much about from the harms of uranium mining, and calling for justice on behalf of his people.”

The story was co-published with ICT, formerly Indian Country Today.

“Cabrera manages a rare feat with the story,” said her editor, Public Integrity journalist Jamie Smith Hopkins. “It’s deeply upsetting — unsparing in its explanation of the repercussions of government actions and inaction — but also powerfully uplifting. Tulley’s work speaks to the difference a person can make. His hopes for the future are a reminder that no one works alone.”

Cabrera joined Public Integrity as a senior reporter last year after reporting on environmental justice at Grist and HuffPost. 

Her reporting on toxic lead contamination across the country, including an investigation into the legacy of industrial lead pollution in communities of color, has received widespread praise. Her Grist investigation, “Ghosts of Polluters Past,” recently won an international Sigma Award in recognition of the world’s best data journalism, just as Public Integrity published the project’s final installment

In addition to her role at Public Integrity, Cabrera is president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and has helped lead efforts to increase the number of journalists of color who cover environmental and climate issues.

Public Integrity journalists have won the Paul Tobenkin Award four times, including twice in the past three years. In 2021, the award recognized the organization’s “Hidden Hardships” investigation into pandemic mistreatment of immigrant workers keeping the country’s food supply going. Other past Tobenkin Award winners have included journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, ProPublica, the Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Reporter.

Public Integrity’s journalists have been recognized with numerous honors in recent months, including the Sigma Award, two finalist honors for the Shaufler Prize for reporting about underserved people, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing’s “Best in Business” awards, the Gracie Awards honoring media produced by and for women, and the Signal Awards recognizing the country’s best podcasts. 

Founded in 1989, the Center for Public Integrity is one of the oldest nonprofit news organizations in the country and is dedicated to investigating systems and circumstances that contribute to inequality in the United States.

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