Sam Minkler
The San Francisco Peaks at the Winter Solstice. Sacred to more than a dozen tribes, this mountain cluster is threatened by a plan to coat it with snow made from treated sewage for skiing. One of Turtle Island's hottest sacred environmental battlegrounds.

Eight Hottest Environmental Battlegrounds in Indian Country

Terri Hansen
8/27/13

Corporate interests have been gobbling up indigenous land and rights since contact more than 500 years ago. Today, American Indians are still fighting to maintain their stewardship and the integrity of the land. From the uranium invasion of the Grand Canyon, to the trashing of sacred places in the name of renewable energy, here are some of the most environmentally embattled hot spots in Indian country.

1. Havasupai Tribe Challenges Grand Canyon Uranium Mine

The Havasupai, natives of Grand Canyon lands, sued the U.S. Forest Service on March 7, 2013 over its decision to allow Energy Fuels Resources Inc. to mine uranium near Grand Canyon National Park without initiating or completing tribal consultations, and without updating a 26-year-old federal environmental review. The lawsuit alleges violations of environmental, mining, public land and historic preservation laws.

RELATED: 20-Year Ban on New Uranium-Mining Claims in Grand Canyon Holds Up in Court

2. Keweenaw Bay Indians' Fight Global Mining Corporation

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of the Lake Superior Band of Chippewa in Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula had to fight for their clean water, sacred sites, and traditional way of life after the international Kennecott Eagle Minerals arrived 10 years ago to tunnel a mile underground near Lake Superior to reach metals in the ore. As the project moves toward completing its sulfide-extraction plan to mine copper and nickel from tribal lands in 2014, this fight is far from over.

RELATED: Keweenaw Bay Indians' Fight Against Michigan Mine Detailed in Series

3. Lummi Stand Firm Against SSA Marine’s Proposed Cherry Point Coal Terminal

Members of the Lummi Nation protest plans for a coal rail terminal at Cherry Point, Washington state. (Photo: Associated Press)

The Lummi Nation formally opposed SSA Marine of Seattle’s proposed Cherry Point terminal in a July 30 letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, as it will infringe on treaty fishing rights. SSA Marine wants a shoreline terminal with multiple rail lines near Bellingham, Wash., to export 48 million tons of Montana and Wyoming Powder River Basin coal annually—some likely from Crow Indian country—to Asia. In the past USACE has refused to process other permit applications if Indian tribes contend such projects violate treaty rights as defined by numerous federal court rulings. What’s next?

RELATED: Lummi Nation Officially Opposes Coal Export Terminal in Letter to Army Corps of Engineers

4. Desert Natives Fight Annihilation of Petroglyphs, Geopglyphs by Mega Renewable Power Projects

Multibillion-dollar solar power and wind projects fast-tracked for California’s pristine desert areas materialized in 2008 that would destroy hundreds of petroglyphs as well as giant earth drawings called geopglyphs. The plan prompted lawsuits by Native American tribes and La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle. A U.S. District Court ruling in December 2010 said that the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management had failed to consult with the Quechan Tribe before approving one project, stating that Native Americans are entitled to “special consideration” when agencies fulfill their consultation requirements under the National Historic Preservation Act. 

The Coyote Mountains form the backdrop for this desert wilderness that is part of the Quechan Indian Tribe’s creation story. The desert floor would be scraped bare to make way for the 10-mile-long solar project.

Yet in early 2002 after the Genesis solar plant disrupted cultural and cremation sites of the Colorado River tribes BLM Deputy State Director Thomas Pogacnik said Native Americans had good reason to be angry about his agency's fast-track process that relied almost entirely on data from developers to determine where to place the first "high-priority" wind and solar projects on public land.  The battle rages on.

RELATED: Tribes Fear Destruction of Cultural Sites by Solar Project

 

5. Quapaw Tribe Sues United States Over Mining Mess

The Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma filed suit March 25, 2013 against the United States for $175 million for financial mismanagement and failure to ensure that mining companies had appropriately cleaned and restored their reservation after discontinuing the largest lead and zinc mining operation in the country, which produced billions of dollars in ore. Now, much of their land is polluted and lies within the Tar Creek Superfund Site. In a 10-year investigation the tribe said it found that a close relationship between the federal government, U.S. Department of Interior, and mining companies contributed to the lack of meaningful cleanup. Few members of the tribe benefited from the tribe’s mineral wealth.

RELATED: Quapaw Tribe Files Suit Against Federal Government for Alleged Land Mismanagement

6. Northern Wisconsin Tribes Take on Gogebic Taconite LLC

The problems keep coming for Gogebic Taconite’s proposed open pit iron ore mine in Wisconsin’s Gogebic Iron Range. Against it are the Lac Courte Oreilles and Bad River tribes. ICTMN brought to light a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ July 2013 letter to GTAC warning of the potential presence of a deadly form of asbestos, and GTAC’s dismissal of the agency’s concern in a written reply. ICTMN also reported that Wisconsin legislators ignored crucial scientific evidence when they passed legislation underwritten by GTAC last March that facilitated the project.

RELATED: Wis. Mining War

7. Sacred San Francisco Peaks Sewage Drench Staved Off

The San Francisco Peaks in Arizona, sacred to more than a dozen tribes, gave rise to lawsuits when in 2002 the U.S. Forest Service lessee, Arizona Snowbowl, began plans to expand a ski area on one of the peaks. Doing so meant not only clear-cutting a huge swath of rare alpine tundra but also making snow from reclaimed wastewater, including sewage, pumped in from nearby Flagstaff by cacophonous machines operating around the clock. The Hopi Tribe won its latest round on April 25, when the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned a 2011 ruling by a former Coconino County Superior Court judge, clearing the way for them to challenge the city of Flagstaff’s contract to sell reclaimed wastewater to Arizona Snowbowl.

8. A Losing Battle for Uranium Mine in Navajo Country

A joke that was circulating on Facebook recently said that if Wate Mining wanted to extract uranium from Arizona state land it would have to catapult the 500,000 annual pounds of ore to the processing mill in Utah. Why? Navajo country surrounds the state land. Officially, the Navajo Department of Justice responded to the mineral lease application in May, saying, "Given the (Navajo) Nation's history with uranium mining, it is the nation's intent to deny access to the land for the purpose of prospecting for or mining of uranium."

These are just a few of the battles being fought to preserve the environment against corporate interests in Indian country. Follow even more conflicts below.

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Winnemem Wintu Tribe Wrestles With Bureaucracy to Perform Sacred Ritual

Proposed Alaska Coal Mine Divides Alaska Communities, Elicits Racist Rant

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