Let’s face it, there are many environmental issues regarding Indian tribes that are all of significant importance, however I found one that I find to be particularly disturbing. The topic I feel that is most important to involving American Indian environmental issues is the storage and/or improper disposal of nuclear and hazardous waste on or near Indian reservations. The reason that I believe this issue is the most important is best said by Bayley Lopez of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, “In the quest to dispose of nuclear waste, the government and private companies have disregarded and broken treaties, blurred the definition of Native American sovereignty, and directly engaged in a form of economic racism akin to bribery.1” I believe this is a priority over some of the other environmental issues solely because it is very dangerous for people who are living on and around reservations with disposal and storage sites, these innocent people are being exposed to toxic materials that could potentially cause immediate or long term health complications.
The first example I found of this was involving the Skull Valley band of Utah’s Goshute tribe. In this particular case the tribe was solicited to store spent nuclear waste on their tribe’s land. The problem for the tribe came when the storage of the nuclear waste was done above ground. The improper storage and disposal can affect the environment in multiple ways including climate change and air pollution, not to mention water contamination and the possibility of direct contact with toxic waste without even knowing that you have encountered the dangerous material. The second example I found was with the Prairie Island Indians who have two nuclear reactors stored on their reservation only hundreds of yards from where people are living. The unfortunate detail regarding this particular case is that the tribe could not afford an attorney and the BIA instead acted on their behalf. “The end result was selling the right away along the only road running through the reservation for $178 and no portion of the $20 million the plant would pay in property taxes.2”
The very unfortunate thing about most situations like these one’s is that the proper disposal of nuclear waste is so costly and time consuming that these large manufacturers and corporations would rather pay a sovereign nation to improperly dispose of or store their toxic materials for them. For the corporations, this is fine, out of site out of mind as they say. But for the Indian people affected by this improper storage and disposal it is another story, one that will last longer that the tribal people are living on their land, because some nuclear waste can take up to one million years to be disposed of.
2) Winona Laduke, All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life, Cambridge, Ma South End Press, MN, Honor of the Earth, 1999, 106-107