Once again, the white man is after Indian land.
This time he comes in the form of representatives of firms like Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI) who want the land, not for its natural resources, but for “chemical residual management facilities” — a trade buzz term for toxic waste dumps.
In its efforts to locate dump sites on Indian land, BFI got the listing of tribes through a system of “introductions” provided by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Then BFI approached many tribes including the Chemehuevi and Haulapai in Arizona, the Duckwater Shoshone in Nevada, the Muscogee in Oklahoma, and the Cherokee in North Carolina.
There are several reasons why Indian lands seem so attractive to BFI. First, they appear easily attainable to the corporate boards because tribes are now suffering from the effects of severe cutbacks in Federal funding. BFI offered one tribe “a million or more a year, which is pretty attractive to a small tribe like ours” as Conkie Hoover, Secretary-Treasurer of the Chemehuevi said.
Second, BFI could use the issue of tribal sovereignty to its advantage. Although federal regulations would apply, the expectation is that monitoring and enforcement would be a great deal more difficult than on non-Indian land because of the remoteness of most proposed sites and the fact that only Indian votes are of any consequence on Indian land.
Further, the BIA, a federal agency, appears to play a supportive role in this type of exploitation. The BIA provides “introductions” — these occur when a company (such as BFI) submits a list of requirements to the BIA which then provides the company with a list of tribes which fill the requirements. The BIA does no research into the company (they would have found that BFI has a very questionable environmental track record) nor the project it proposes. However, the nature of the BIA as a “caretaker” of Indian affairs (and the fact that the tribe in question is not consulted before its name is given out)’implies a sort of “endorsement” of the company, a point which seems not to have escaped the companies seeking tribal lands.
This latest assault on Indian land (this time to dump white man’s waste) deserves far more media exposure than it received in the Indian tabloid where it was first published.
Native Self-Sufficiency, May, 1982, published by the Tribal Sovereignty Program, edited by Paula Hammett.