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Native Sun News: Uranium mine near Pine Ridge not a done deal

Filed Under: Environment | National
More on: native sun news, oglala sioux, south dakota, uranium

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Uranium mining not done deal
Community info meeting set for Dec. 13 in Rapid City
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

HOT SPRINGS — An Oglala Sioux Tribe natural resources technician guaranteed listeners at a recent Fall River County Commission hearing that the protection of cultural resources is an outstanding obstacle for Canadian investors’ effort to reinstate uranium mining at Powertech (USA) Inc.’s Dewey-Burdock site in Fall River County adjacent to the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“As far as the tribes are concerned, we want a TCP (Tribal Cultural Preservation) study done on the whole 10,000 acres, not just the 2,637-acre area of potential effect,” tribal natural resources technician Dennis Yellow Thunder told commissioners.

“According to our treaties and stuff, that’s still aboriginal homeland, and we don’t agree with your going out there and disturbing ancestral homeland,” Yellow Thunder said.

He received a hearty round of applause from the standing-room-only, non-Native American crowd gathered at the meeting held to inform commissioners’ decision to intervene in an upcoming state hearing on South Dakota’s first proposed in-situ leach (ISL) injection mining for uranium.

Two grassroots organizations subsequently scheduled a community information meeting for this Dec. 13 in Rapid City to discuss the history, current status and effects of uranium mining in the Black Hills.

The meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the City/School Administration Center features a panel of Black Hills environmental and legal experts on a program to address technical, humanistic and legal issues of Powertech’s applications for mining and water rights.

The nonprofit Dakota Rural Action and the Clean Water Alliance are hosting the event to help the public learn about Powertech’s plans to use groundwater to extract uranium, water demand and drought, public health and radioactive waste, the organizations said in announcing the date.

The Clean Water Alliance describes itself as “citizens concerned about the health, environmental and economic impacts that proposed uranium mining projects would have on our communities, people, economy and natural resources.” Their goal is to prevent uranium mining in the Black Hills region “and protect our valuable resources - especially water - for future generations.”

Dakota Rural Action is a “family agriculture and conservation group that strives to build leadership through community organizing by giving people a strong voice in decisions affecting their quality of life,” it says. The Black Hills Chapter addresses issues of local food, community, agricultural land preservation, energy and natural resources.

The meeting was set to take place at the First Floor Community Room of the City/School Administration Center in Rapid City, at 300 6th St.

According to the draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the 11,000-acre Powertech project along the Cheyenne River in the extreme southwestern corner of South Dakota, the state Office of Tribal Government Relations told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2009 that “tribal governments would be most interested in potential harm to the environment from the proposed project.”

Under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, NRC is required to conduct consultation with Native American tribes to determine whether proposed federal actions will affect historic properties.

The South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office identified 20 Native American tribes that might attach historic, cultural and religious significance to properties within the proposed Dewey-Burdock ISL boundaries.

The NRC staff contacted the tribal governments by mail and solicited information regarding any such properties from the: Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Yankton Sioux Tribe, Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation) of North Dakota, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota, Spirit Lake Tribe of North Dakota, Lower Sioux Indian Community of Minnesota, Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes of Montana, Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana, Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming, Eastern Shoshone Tribe of Wyoming, Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska, Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, and Crow Tribe of Montana.

Formal government-to-government consultations began in 2010. However, a mutually agreeable Scope of Work document for identification and evaluation of sites remains to be attained. Powertech spokesman Mark Hollenbeck told county commissioners at the meeting held Nov. 26, “There is a Section 106 process with NRC that’s ongoing that is looking for traditional cultural properties.”

However, Yellow Thunder noted, “That hasn’t been concluded yet, and according to our information, you won’t get anything done out there at least until spring because the field season is over now. So as far as the cultural resources are concerned you’re not even close to accomplishing that task.”

The Archaeology Laboratory of Augustana College in Sioux Falls has conducted cultural resource evaluations on the land leased by Powertech for the mining, but many more remain to be done. Tribal officials want access to the Dewey-Burdock site so that studies are conducted with tribal involvement.

“The job that Augustana did is inconclusive,” Yellow Thunder said. “What it found out was not even close to what a team of people of special expertise did find out there, so right now as far as cultural resources are concerned, we are at a standstill.”

Included in archeologists’ findings at Dewey-Burdock are hundreds of potentially significant sites, including rock cairns, stone circles, hearth features, scrapers, points and other tools and artifacts.

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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