Toxic Waste

What do you do with a 50-year accumulation of some of the most toxic garbage ever produced? Federal governments would have dumped them onto the lands of North American Native Indians since their lands are an untapped source of excess lands not being used. Since the federal government has “trustee” responsibility to protect Native American lands, they cannot directly be involved in allowing companies to use Indian reservations as toxic waste dump sites. The federal government has been searching for many years for new locations to dump the toxic waste that was created during the Cold War and with the one hundred ten nuclear plants piling up in toxic and nuclear waste, that new locations are needed. This issue of dumping toxic waste on native reservations has become a heated issue concerning health risks and government flaws in their regulations, as well as, any future implications this will have with the Native Indians and government relations.

The issue of toxic dumping on Native American Indian lands goes back roughly to 1988 when a governmental department thought best to have incinerators and toxic dump waste sites on their lands. Interior Department decided that it would be a good "economic development". A letter from the Office of the Nuclear Waste Negotiator, dated April 10, 1991, says its "mission is to find a State or Indian tribe willing to host a repository or monitored retrievable storage facility for nuclear waste....". But the event marked the beginning of a major assault on Indian lands by the regulatory-industrial complex, an assault is now in full swing. Today, toxic waste disposal companies have approached more than fifty U.S. indigenous groups, offering millions of dollars in exchange for the right to dump U.S. trash on Native American grounds.

Waste companies seek to avoid state, county, municipal and many federal waste-facility operating standards, which do not apply to Native American reservations because of their sovereign status. The corporations also prey on the economic vulnerability of indigenous communities, touting their disposal plans as unique opportunities for "economic development" and increased employment on impoverished Native American reservation - but not mentioning the serious health threats posed by the incineration and storage of hazardous and other wastes.

After the start of targeting Indian lands for waste dump sites, many new acts passed by the government. More and more companies have approached different tribes with proposals. The goal of NWPA was to locate a permanent geologic repository for the waste and to develop Monitored Retrievable Storage (MRS) facilities to deal with the immediate waste needs of the nation\'s nuclear reactors. To get communities to accept nuclear waste dumps, Leroy, a professional “motivational” speaker and a former Republican lieutenant governor and attorney general of Idaho, and other consultants came up with an MRS plan that offers a package deal -- money along with community facilities and improvements -- to any community that would accept a waste dump.

At a conference called “Protecting Mother Earth--The Toxic Threat to Indian Land. In mid-June”, Carter Camp, a Ponca leader from Oklahoma, told the conference that the invasion of native lands by the waste industry, aided by the federal government, represents a serious threat to Indian sovereignty--the right of native people to control their own destiny on their own land. Dumps created on native land will leak in the future and may threaten non-native people living nearby. This would provide the dominant society an excuse to declare that native people are unfit to conduct their own affairs and are themselves a hazard that must be controlled. This plan was partially successful. By May 1992, the U.S. Nuclear Waste Negotiator\'s office doled out 20 "Phase I" MRS planning grants of $100,000 each to Indian communities.

The issue of allowing toxic waste to be dumped onto Indian lands shows two how the government seems to be backstabbing the native Indians and going against the “trustee” responsibility they are obliged to. It is clear that native people often share one important problem with the dominant society: corrupt and venal leadership. As the dangers of waste storage, disposal and incineration are further exposed indigenous resistance to corporate and government waste facility schemes will continue to build. In the meantime, each incinerator, landfill or toxic storage facility that is built on a reservation poisons thousands of Native