Toxic Pollution in Tribal Waters

Mní wičhóni; water is life (Lakota). Native Americans have a deeper relationship with the water compared to many others. Each tribe has its own unique symbolism associated with it: life, change, healing, bravery, unconditional love.

Traditional practices nearly universally hold water to be sacred. Waterways on tribal lands sustain the flora and fauna that provide food and nourishment; it plays a strong role in spiritually-significant rituals and everyday activities.

Currently, much of the water on tribal lands runs thick with poison.

Corporate and federal interests have long been held as more important than the safety of indigenous people. Unfortunately, corporations still exploit tribal land and its resources for unsavory, dangerous business practices; pipeline failures and toxic mining wastes foul sacred waters and chemicals run freely into rivers and streams.

Water is life, but on tribal lands, corporations treat it like collateral damage.

Agricultural Chemicals and Environmental Racism on American Indian Lands

According to the Berkeley Political Review, Native Americans are more at risk of toxic exposure than any other group in the United States.  Agricultural chemicals cause a number of illnesses and health issues, including neurological disorders, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and heart disease.

Following the Funding

Numerous corporations profit from agricultural operations based on Native reservation lands. According to the 207 USDA Census of Agriculture, 87% of ag revenue created on reservation lands goes to non-Natives. Also telling, 92% of all chemicals purchased for use on American Indian reservations are purchased by non-Natives.

Government subsidies help Big Agriculture to make money from Native American cropland while chemically poisoning people, land, and waterways. These corporations are often more concerned with profits and efficiency than the health of the land and how toxic pesticides affect the ecosystem. They buy the chemicals, put Native people at risk by using them, and reap the profits of large yields while Native lands, waterways, and people suffer.

In contrast, many Native-owned operations practice regenerative agriculture, which mimics the processes of nature as much as possible. By planting cover crops, growing rotationally, and using aged animal manure and fish emulsion for fertilizer, many Native growers build soil health and provide crops with nutrients they need to grow and produce good yields. Native growers also use natural plants and to control harmful insects and attract pollinators. They remain consistent with environmentally peaceful cultural values.

Many non-Native corporations and agricultural operation owners practice large scale and conventional agriculture. Government subsidies are based on yields, not quality or environmental stewardship. As a result, many of the corporations that profit from use of Native American lands and resources are destructive to Native people, land, and culture.

OnderLaw has been a leader in the United States in taking on large agricultural corporations. Our attorneys are on executive committees and successful in courtrooms against big companies like Bayer-Monsanto. We believe in doing the right thing, and we stand by tribal governments and Native-run companies to recover damages done by chemical toxins spread by corporations.

Call OnderLaw at 800-881-0939 to discuss your case. We listen, and we are here for you.

Dioxin Contamination of Native American Rivers

San-CarlosThe San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, among other tribal nation land, faces a unique threat to their water safety: dioxin. Infamously known as one of the most dangerous chemical compounds in existence, dioxin is highly toxic, and it causes a wide-range of horrific health conditions.

As the city of Phoenix grew, so did concerns over water; the desert area could not sustain the water needs of the ever-growing population. The solution to this problem was the Gila River Phreatophyte Project, a program implemented by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in the 1960s and 1970s – the same time that dioxin in a different form, Agent Orange, was being used as a weapon on people in Vietnam – that involved spraying dioxin-laden herbicide along the stretch of the Gila River belonging to the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation to keep cottonwood trees from growing along the riverbed.

Not only do cottonwood trees no longer grow along this large swath of the San Carlos Apache Reservation, hundreds of people have died from cancers and other illnesses believed to have been caused by the neurotoxin.

Even after decades, dioxin continues to persist in the reservation’s water, air, and livestock, leading to devastating consequences for the community. People living on the reservation recount stories of entire families falling ill and dying of rare diseases. The reservation, which once had cancer rates lower than the state average, saw frightening spikes in the cancer rate after the dioxin herbicide had been sprayed.

The San Carlos Apache tribe was not the only tribe where the BIA spread dioxin. The small Hupa tribe in northwest California was also targeted, and others may have been poisoned as well.

The dioxin spray program was eventually ended, but the legacy of cancer and rare disease deaths remains.

Other toxins, too, plague tribal waters. Waste from mining, gas and oil pipeline breakage, and industrial waste all contribute to toxic levels of deadly chemicals.

What Are the Impacts of Toxic Water Contamination?

Scientists have linked several health conditions to water contamination, and many of these illnesses plague tribal nations. Native Americans suffer from diseases and risks at significantly higher rates than non-native people. The statistics show an alarming trend:

  • Native Americans are more likely to develop liver, stomach, kidney, lung, colorectal, and breast cancer compared to non-native people in most regions.
  • Birth defects are 50% more prevalent among Native Americans than in the non-native population.
  • Native Americans have the greatest chance of developing diabetes out of all racial groups in the United States. Scientists attribute some of the increased risk to a total lack of clean drinking water, forcing Native Americans to seek out the more easily accessible, sugary drink alternatives.
  • The diabetes mortality rate is about 4.7 times higher among Native Americans than for non-natives in the United States.

Corporations need to be held accountable for their reckless destruction of native land and water.

Corporations mine in Native American reservations, pollute the surrounding environment, sicken the local population,  and then (more often than not) leave their mess for the community to clean. However, these poor communities lack the resources to properly clean up such large-scale pollution; the task is nearly impossible.

Filing a corporate pollution lawsuit allows you to target the only thing these corporations care about: their bottom line. Additionally, it forces these corporations to take responsibility for their crimes.

OnderLaw is committed to standing up against wrongs done to American Indian communities and will continue the fight to change the way corporations – and the government – does business.
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