A disproportionate number of dangerous military sites are located
on or near tribal lands, according to a recently-published study.
In the August 2004 issue of American Sociological Review
two sociologists reported their review of closed military
sites in more than 3,100 counties in the lower 48 states.
They found that a significant number of sites rated "extremely"
dangerous by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were located near
"The more acres owned by Native Americans, the greater the number of such
sites," wrote Gregory Hooks, a professor at Washington State University,
and Chad L. Smith, a former WSU graduate student who is now a professor
at Texas State University-San Marcos.
The researchers traced the threat to the expansion of the
U.S. military following the Indian wars of the late 1800s and continuing
through the Cold War in the 1950s. Tribes
were pushed off millions and millions of acres of their
homelands to make way for bombing ranges,
weapons testing sites, storage facilities and other military installations,
Hooks and Smith note.
The result is that Indian Country remains at risk from unexploded ordinance,
including landmines, nerve gases, and toxic and explosive shells. Hooks,
the chair of WSU's Department of Sociology, said
"The Treadmill of Destruction: National Sacrifice
Areas and Native Americans" is the first to document these
environmental hazards and their relation to federal Indian policy.
"The study demonstrates that much of the disproportional exposure of Native
Americans to environmental dangers
throughout the 20th century was the result of militarism, rather than economic
competition," said Hooks. "And it shows that
historically coercive governmental policies in locating Indian reservations
are a major factor in determining their exposure."
The study looked at several periods in U.S.-Indian relations to examine
the impact of the military's expansion on Native Americans. It found
that the greatest danger developed not during the removal and assimilation
era of the 1800s and early 1900s but during the era that started with
the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, moved to the termination acts of
the 1950s and ended with the 1975 self-determination act.
According to the data, 240 extremely dangerous sites were created
during the IRA period. In the years following
termination and self-determination, 310 extremely dangerous sites were
developed, the study reported.
The Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program at the
Department of Defense and other federal programs
seek to address some of these impacts. Government officials
work with tribes across the nation to cleanup, restore and mitigate
the military's environmental impacts on Indian lands.
The effort has not always been successful. In October, the Umatilla Nation of
Oregon sued the government over nuclear waste left at Hanford Nuclear
Reservation, a site in Washington that was created in World War II
to produce plutonium for the first nuclear weapons. The
Yakama Nation of
Washington and the Nez Perce Tribe of
Idaho are in mediation over the same issue.
Still, tribal leaders have given the Pentagon a generally favorable rating for
working with Indian Country. With the exception of the Army Corps, an agency faulted
for its handling of sacred sites and burial grounds, they say military
officials are more open than the Interior Department and other agencies.
Since 1996, the mitigation program has contacted over 100 tribes affected
by nearly 550 military sites in the lower 48 states and in Alaska.
As a result, the government has cleaned up some sites and
returned some land to tribes.
But the study authors say more research needs to be done to understand
the effects of current military sites because that information remains
"Given that the United States currently possesses
a disproportionate share of the world’s
weapons of mass destruction and these weapons
are stored at active military bases, a full understanding
of the environmental dangers posed by
military activities requires a careful examination
of the materials and their handling," Hooks and Smith wrote.
Here are some examples of military sites affecting tribes
and their Risk Assessment Code (RAC). An RAC score of 1 indicates
immediate danger; scores of 2 and 3 indicate a sense of urgency; a score
of 4 indicates some work needs to occur; and a score of 5
indicates no work needed. Data is
taken from the Department of Defense's
Native American Environmental Tracking System.
|SITE ||TRIBE ||RAC|
| Williams Field Bomb Target Range
||Ak Chin Indian Community, Arizona || 3 |
| Isleta Pueblo Ordnance Impact Area
|| Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico ||2|
|Salton Sea Bomb Target #51
||Torres-Martinez Band of Cahuilla Indians, California ||3|
|Williams Field Bomb Target Range #13
||Tohono O'odham Nation, Arizona ||4|
American Sociological Review -
Department of Defense Native American Environmental Tracking System -
Ordnance and Explosives Directorate - http://www.hnd.usace.army.mil/oew