Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian

By Michael E. Harkin; David Rich Lewis | Go to book overview

12. Skull Valley Goshutes and the
Politics of Nuclear Waste
Environment, Identity, and Sovereignty

David Rich Lewis

“Over my dead body!” thundered Utah governor Michael Leavitt (Indian Country Today 1993). Normally, every committed environmentalist in Utah and the Intermountain West would have lined up to accommodate the Republican governor's challenge. But this time, there was a resounding silence, even an endorsement of the governor's stand. At issue was an agreement between the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians and Private Fuel Storage LLC to store forty thousand metric tons of high-level radioactive waste for up to forty years on a concrete pad forty-five miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The eighteen-thousand-acre Skull Valley Goshute Reservation is already surrounded by military bombing ranges, federal nerve agent storage facilities, and private hazardous waste sites, and it affords the approximately 124 band members few if any options for economic development. The agreement would bring the Goshutes jobs and millions of dollars annually. For Skull Valley tribal chairman Leon Bear, the issue is about cultural survival and tribal sovereignty, the paternalism of the state, and the environmental racism of Goshute critics. For Governor Leavitt, the state legislature, and environmental opponents, it is about the lack of state control or fiscal benefit, the fear of having two million residents live downwind from a nuclear repository, the environmental racism of the nuclear industry, and the conflicting images of ecological Indians versus Indians as modern human beings (Verdoia 2001).

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