By Ian Zabarte
Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2020
The Shoshone have lived in the Great Basin, home to Yucca Mountain, for more than 12,000 years. The Shoshone primary use of the land and water is their identity.
By the time nuclear weapons testing ended, over 1,000 nuclear tests were conducted on Shoshone land and people. In 1992, the Shoshone began to investigate their radiation exposure.
The Native Community Action Council (NCAC) was created to investigate and found, after review of the 1990 Department of Energy (DOE) Off-site Radiation Exposure Review, that Indian tribes received significantly higher radiation dose in fallout than non-Indians. Higher risk of exposures was found based on lifestyle differences that include: diet, mobility and shelter. The NCAC found increased exposure: 15 times greater for adults, 30 times for youth, and 60 times greater in utero. The results were used as a contention at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing of Yucca Mountain for a deep geologic repository for high-level radioactive waste.
Despite spending $10 billion, the administration failed to meet the licensing requirements of the NRC under 10 CFR 960 121.12 OWNERSHIP. Even with the Bureau of Land Management master title plats, the DOE could not prove ownership to Yucca Mountain because the Treaty of Ruby Valley is controlling and, in “full force and effect.” Shoshone title remains unextinguished.
The DOE’s 1990 Yucca Mountain Cultural Resource Study created a study protocol of cultural triage.* Triage is appropriately used in natural disasters to determine where limited resources are used to maximize survival. Cultural triage is defined as, “a forced choice situation in which an ethnic group is faced with the decision to rank in importance equally valued cultural resources that could be affected by a proposed development project.” In Shoshone country, there is no natural disaster to invoke triage; there is no development project that justifies requiring the Shoshone to choose whether water or land is more important. As said earlier, water and land are Shoshone identity. What the Shoshone people experience with the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste proposal is a deliberate act to dismantle Shoshone living lifeways in relation to the land—an ethnic cleansing—for the benefit and profit of the nuclear industry.
The DOE-funded research, organizing the Consolidated Group of Tribes and Organizations in 1988, paving the way for this cultural triage. Tribes unwittingly participated, manufacturing consent for the Yucca Mountain project by their consultation. The tribes involved include the Pahrump Paiute Tribe, an invented tribe, and the Las Vegas Indian Center, an urban social-welfare organization. Both entities were directed by the same individual who is not an Indian enrolled in any tribe. The remaining 14 federally recognized Indian tribes created by the US are “incompetents” under the guardianship of the Department of Interior. Federally recognized tribes, due to their dependency, are unable to give consent to involvement, research on them, or research outcomes.
The Consolidated Group of Tribes and Organizations has a new name, meeting as the Nuclear Energy Tribal Working Group at the National Conference of State Legislatures. It includes the fabricated tribe that misleads federally recognized tribes to this day with the funding and support of the DOE.
The Shoshone seek collaborators in the persistent struggle to create understanding of the health disparities and to mitigate the cascading effects suffered from radioactive fallout exposure. The Shoshone do not consent to Yucca Mountain or any other part of Shoshone country being used for nuclear waste disposal.
* Native American Cultural Resource Studies at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, 1990, Richard Stoffle
—Ian Zabarte is Principal Man of the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians and Secretary of Native Community Action Council.