Tribal Lands and Corporate Environmental Pollution

Environmental Racism on American Indian Lands

Native American tribal communities are historically among the most exploited groups in the United States, but the abuse is not a thing of the past. Corporations reap huge profits from plundering Native American land and resources, often leaving toxic destruction in their wake. Unfortunately, the very government that is supposed to protect all Americans from corporate pillaging is often in collusion with companies like Koch Industries, huge mining operations, and oil and gas companies, assisting big industry to take as much as possible for little investment, and without accountability for damage done to people and the environment. This environmental racism cannot continue, and Frazer Onder Environmental Law is dedicated to holding these corporations accountable.

Oil Companies and Environmental Destruction on Reservations

When oil companies decide where to lay their pipeline, they often look to the patchwork of 55 million acres of reservation lands. They know that, not only is use of these lands cheap to obtain, but federal regulators have historically turned their heads when tribes complain about exploitation and irregularities in approval processes.

American Indian tribes currently own and manage about 95 million acres of land in the United States. Oil and gas companies know they can get by with leasing easements on these lands for pennies on the dollar, and it is not uncommon for them to result in intimidation and other bullying tactics when tribes and individuals resist. But it’s what can happen after they’ve pushed their way in that is most concerning.

Pipelines break. It’s what they do. And when they do, the resulting spills cause often irreparable damage to habitats, wetlands and waterways, and important cultural sites, including burial grounds and sacred places.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, since 1986, there have been nearly 8,000 critical spills (approximately 300 per year, on average), resulting in more than 500 deaths, 2,300 injuries, and nearly $7 billion in damage. Pipeline accidents have spilled, on average, more than 3 million gallons every year.

Here’s a video to learn more:

Frazer Onder Environmental Law is dedicated to helping Native Americans recover damages from these destructive spills. We have the experience, resources and knowledge to take on even the largest corporations. We do it because it’s the right thing to do, and because, like Native people, we understand the importance of environmental stewardship.

Learn more about Frazer Onder Environmental Law and oil spills on Native American lands here.

Mining on Tribal Lands

corporate_pollutionWhile the oil and gas industry has exploited Native lands in recent decades, the mining industry has pillaged Native American resources and polluted reservation air, lands, and waters for well over a century. In 1872, President Ulysses Grant signed the Mining Act, an act that continues to grant corporations the right to mine on public lands. Then, in 1891, Congress passed the first of a patchwork of federal laws that allow mining companies to lease mineral rights on tribal lands without tribal consent. These laws continue to affect tribes across the country, particularly in the American West, not only because of the surface damage done by mine roads and other infrastructure, but because of the horrific, irreparable pollution caused by careless disposal of toxic waste.

Tailings and other toxic waste have severely impacted tribal lands, including large swaths of natural habitat. Wildlife and humans depend on these habitats for clean water and air. They also contain historically and culturally important sites.

The U.S. Department of the Interior administers nearly 2 million acres of mineral leases on Indian lands. Until the early 1970s, when additional requirements were passed for mining corporations, Indian mineral owners had little authority over mining operations and locations, waste disposal, or use of their own timber, gravel, and water.

Air, land, water, and burial sites were polluted and destroyed neglectfully, haphazardly, and without second thoughts by mining companies too busy counting profits to care what they were doing to Native people. The federal government was complicit. They renegotiated treaties, moved reservation boundaries, and bullied tribal authorities into selling land rich in mineral resources.

The result: polluted water systems, poisoned fish and wildlife, and destroyed sacred areas. Many of these mines have also created serious health risks for Native American people living on the land.

The legal team at Frazer Onder Environmental Law is determined to hold mining corporations accountable when they destroy and pollute tribal lands. We have the resources, knowledge, and passion to take on mining companies and make them pay for the damage they’ve done.

Learn more about Frazer Onder Environmental Law and mining on American Indian lands here.

Agricultural Pollution on Tribal Lands


Beginning in the 1960s (and probably before), the federal government implemented a project to spray waterways on Native American lands with toxic chemicals – dioxin, in particular – in order to keep water flowing to low-precipitation areas off of reservations. They rationalized that cottonwoods and salt cedars used too much water that could flow, instead, into water supplies for cities and towns, and they killed these trees and other plants with the same deadly toxin found in Agent Orange. In at least one documented case, wind took these chemicals, sprayed by air, directly over a school playground where Native children were innocently playing. Many became sick. Even more devastating, for decades, entire families began dying of cancers and rare diseases many believe are associated with these poisons. This is not the only example. It is not surprising to any Native American that, according to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, non-Natives collect 87% of agricultural revenue generated on Native reservation lands. Natives operate 49.29% of cropland farms on these lands, yet 92% of the often-toxic chemical pesticides (including herbicides) purchased for these operations are bought by non-Natives.

Corporations and others with no real interest in the lives of Native people are buying and directing the spraying of deadly chemicals on tribal lands in order to increase their own profits. Frazer Onder Environmental Law has been in years-long legal battles with Bayer-Monsanto, the maker of glyphosate, and with the makers of paraquat – two of the historically most commonly used pesticides in the world. Both are linked to terrible health effects, including non-Hodgkins lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease. These chemicals and others have undoubtedly impacted the health of American Indian communities.

Learn more about Frazer Onder Environmental Law’s dedication to holding agricultural chemical companies accountable here.