16. America’s Killing Ground

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Sources: Multinational Monitor, PO Box 19405, Washington, DC 20036, Date: September 1992, Title: “America’s Killing Ground” Author: Julie Gozan; SF Weekly, 425 Brannan Street, San Francisco, CA 94107, Date: 9/23/92, Title: “How the Feds Push Nuclear Waste Onto Indian Land,” Author: Juan A. Avila Hernandez

SSU Censored Researcher: Pete Anderson

SYNOPSIS: Corporate waste brokers and the U.S. federal government believe they have discovered a solution to the nation’s rapidly growing garbage disposal prob­lem-dump industrial and household waste, and perhaps even nuclear waste, on Native American lands. Because of their sovereign status, Native American reservations are not subject to state, county, municipal and many federal waste-facility operating standards, a potential boon for waste companies.

The corporate salespeople attempt to entice tribal leaders by presenting their disposal plants as unique opportunities for “economic development” and increased employment on impoverished Native American reservations. But they fail to mention the serious health threats posed by the hazardous wastes.

Since 1990, toxic waste disposal com­panies have contacted more than 50 U.S. indigenous groups, offering millions of dollars in exchange for the right to dump U.S. trash on Native American grounds. Meanwhile, the federal government, which has “trustee” responsibility to pro­tect Native American lands is also promot­ing the disposal of waste, including nuclear waste, on the reservations.

At a conference of the National Con­gress of American Indians (NCAI) in San Francisco, David Leroy, head of the fed­eral Office of the Nuclear Waste Negotia­tor, tried to persuade Indian leaders to store hundreds of canisters of highly ra­dioactive waste on their reservations; he promised each tribe $100,000, no strings attached, just to consider the deal.

One of the government’s largest nuclear waste proposals calls for the De­partment of Energy to spend $32.5 billion on the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste repository planned for the Western Shoshone reservation in Nevada. DOE hopes to convert Yucca Mountain into a receptacle for 70,000 metric tons of high ­level nuclear waste. But, as noted in the “Plutonium Is Forever” nomination, it is increasingly doubtful this will happen.

Native Americans are not simply turn­ing their lands over to the waste promoters without a fight. But one critic, columnist Elmer Savilla, who criticized David Leroy’s speech at the NCAI conference as a con­descending sales pitch, warns that the “tribes’ lack of political power and urgent need for development leave American Indian communities vulnerable and at risk.” He adds, “Mr. Deep Pockets carries a bag full of goodies, including school assistance, health care programs and employment programs. Could this be called bribery?”

The media should be informing the public that non-native U.S. citizens can support Native American’s rights to self­ determination and a clean environment by demanding that their tax dollars not be used to peddle nuclear and other toxic waste to Native Americans.

In the meantime, as the Multinational Monitor points out, each incinerator, land­fill or toxic storage facility built on a reser­vation poisons thousands of Native Ameri­cans and their lands.

COMMENTS: Author Julie Gozan charges that “there has been no coverage of corpo­rate waste dumping on Native American land in the mass media in 1992.

“As the practice of dumping toxic and hazardous waste on Native American land comes to light, public awareness will be fostered about the issues of environmen­tal racism in the United States, hopefully fighting the `not in my backyard’ attitude that allows waste storage facilities to be built on reservations and in African-Ameri­can and Latino neighborhoods dispropor­tionate to white and upper-income neigh­borhoods.

“As corporations are held increas­ingly accountable to consumers, compa­nies will be able to get away with fewer such dangerous waste schemes in the United States, to the health benefit of the entire U. S. public. Support will increase for source reduction and recycling as a means of eliminating the ‘garbage problem.’

“As federal accountability to indig­enous people in the United States and awareness of the continued exploitation of Native Americans grows within the U.S. public, hopefully there will be greater sup­port for indigenous economic and com­munity development plans and for grassroots organizations, such as CARE, that are campaigning against dumping on Native American land.

“The primary beneficiaries of this sub­ject being ‘censored’ are the waste man­agement companies such as Waste Tech and O&G that are looking to profit by getting around federal regulation of waste dumping. The federal agencies with com­plicity in the waste deals also benefit be­cause their officials are able to rely on an `easy’ solution to the country’s waste prob­lem-at the expense of Native American health and lives.”

Juan A. Avila Hernandez, a journalist with the Center for Investigative Reporters, whose article was published by SF Weekly and distributed by Alternet, agrees that the issue is being ignored by the major news media: “The subject of my article-the way the federal government has funded tribal organizations to help site nuclear waste on Indian reservations-has received little at­tention in the national media. While local newspapers write stories almost every time a nuclear waste site or landfill proposal is announced by a nearby tribe, rarely do reporters place the subject in proper con­text. The story, ‘How the Feds Push Nuclear Waste onto Indian Land,’ examines the paper and money trails that show the fed­eral government has used millions of dol­lars in grants and contracts to target tribes, using national Indian organizations that have become increasingly dependent on federal dollars for their budgets.

“Both the general public and the Na­tive American community would benefit from wider exposure of the federal plan to use Indian reservations as temporary nuclear waste sites and the way the plan is being administered. Like all Americans, Native Americans are concerned for the future of their families and communities. Few reservation residents are aware, how­ever, that their lands are being considered to solve the national problem of nuclear waste storage-in some cases, tribal lead­ers have already agreed to accept large grants to consider storing waste before other tribal members even hear of the proposal. Such decisions have caused splits among Indian families and tribes, with at least some tribal dissenters experi­encing harassment, assaults and even death threats. Communities near reserva­tions also would benefit from better expo­sure of this issue.

“The limited coverage of this subject most benefits the federal government and the nuclear industry. Nuclear waste has long been the Achilles’ heel of the nuclear industry and its supporters in Congress. According to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the federal government has the responsibility of storing spent fuel from nuclear reactors. Yet there is no process that guarantees the safe storage of nuclear waste, and in recent years, no community in the U.S. will agree to take it. Successfully placing a temporary nuclear site on an Indian reservation would give both the nuclear industry and its Congressional supporters much-needed time to lobby for the approval of more nuclear reactors.”

While the mainstream media have shown no interest in Hernandez’s extraor­dinary charges of official government brib­ery, his article has been distributed to members of the Native American Journal­ist Association; also, Native American en­vironmentalist groups have informally dis­tributed the story to many reservations in the country.