Indigo Girls Honor the Earth

The Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, recently wound up their 1997 Honor the Earth tour. Their first stop was at the St. Regis Mohawk community of Akwesasne located on the borders of Quebec, Ontario, and New York state. The Indigo Girls performance followed talks by key Mohawk organizers Katsi Cook, Winona LaDuke, and John Trudell. Winona LaDuke addressed the native connection to the environment and explained to the audience the meaning of the tour. She also talked about the First Environment Project of Akwesasne and about holding General Motors and the EPA responsible for the clean up of PCB contamination of Mohawk lands and rivers. LaDuke was followed by John Trudell, a recording artist and former Chairman of the American Indian Movement (AIM) who performed with Quiltman, a native singer. Trudell spoke his poetry between his thoughts on native rights and issues. His moving poetry was accompanied by the stunning voice of Quiltman as he sang in the background.

The tour traveled with a host of other musicians and leaders promoting awareness of environmental and native issues. This year their tour made 21 stops in less than one month and focused primarily on nuclear waste, an issue that has risen to the forefront of native issues because of current congressional legislation. Bill HR 1270, or the Nuclear Waste policy Act, pertaining to this issue was passed through the Senate and awaits approval in the House.

If passed, the legislation would allow canisters of nuclear waste to be transported from various sites across the country to the western Shoshone Nation at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Once in Nevada, these canisters would be placed on cement slabs, similar to a parking lot, at the foot of this sacred mountain. Not only would this be a desecration of a sacred site, it would also pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of every American along the `Mobile Chernobyl' highway. If this legislation is not passed, the back up plan is to create a nuclear waste dump on Skull Valley Goshute territory in Utah. Native lands are targeted locations for nuclear waste dumps and the Honor the Earth Tour '97 is bringing national attention to these issues.

According to the information booklet on the tour, there are 111 nuclear reactors in the U.S. and all of their nuclear waste storage facilities are full or near capacity. Many communities, mostly native communities and communities of color, have been polluted for decades and now, the storage of nuclear waste on their homelands must be prevented. An article by Mary Olsen, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, states that "high level nuclear waste is the most dangerous substance ever created by humankind, remaining deadly for 250,000 years. Approximately 35,000 metric tons of this waste sits at the 111 nuclear reactors across the country." With this knowledge, the U.S. wants to relocate this waste across hundreds of miles of roadways and railways. It will be traveling through the communities of thousands of people. Not only is the transportation of this waste a mortal health hazard, its storage at Yucca Mountain would be violating the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. This treaty gave the western Shoshone full sovereignty and has already been violated by the initial study of Yucca Mountain. If HR 1270, now before Congress, is passed, it will be in further violation of Shosone's sovereign rights.

In addition, the Yucca Mountain area is not one of seismic stability. In the past 20 years there have been 621 earthquakes of 2.5 or higher on the Richter scale. One must question why the government continues to consider this area when faced with these facts. Is it because these are native people that will be directly affected by the mishaps that are inevitably bound to happen?

Mary Olsen also states that under current law, nuclear utilities are responsible and liable for waste storage until a permanent repository is licensed and in place. "[T]he new legislation would transfer high-level waste ownership and liability to the American taxpayer as the waste leaves the utility gate and heads for the Yucca Mountain parking lot."

In case the legislation does not pass, a back-up plan to create storage sites on Skull Valley, Goshute territory, is underway. Seven companies have merged into one limited liability corporation called Private Fuel Storage and have leased land. They are now seeking a permit to dump. This limited liability corporation also allows the nuclear utilities to "side-step liability for the waste or waste related accidents once the casks of radioactive spent fuel leave their plants for the reservation."

Tribes are informed that there are no health risks and are offered astronomical sums of money to keep the nuclear waste on their lands. It is obvious that there is a health hazard in keeping deadly radioactive material that remains deadly for 250,000 years. Tribes must refuse, no matter what their financial situation, if offered these monies. Everyone has a responsibility to prevent legislation such as the Nuclear Waste Policy Act which will threaten the lives of everyone along the `nuclear highways' and threaten the lives of the native people residing on the territory to which this nuclear waste is earmarked.

The proposed sites at Yucca Mountain and the Skull Valley Goshute area are only two of many issues the Honor the Earth tour has focused on. Others were: First Environment Project -- Akwesasne; The Penobscot Nation and IRATE (Indigenous Resistance Against Tribal Extinction), Maine; Eastern Cherokee Defense League, North Carolina; Traditional Seminole Nation, Florida; Fort Belknap Community, Montana; and Buffalo Nation, Montana. Artists participating in the Tour '97 were: Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Brown, Keith Secola and the Wild Band of Indians, Ulali, Indigenous, Sherman Alexie and Jim Boyd, NO NUKES, and Graham Nash. The Honor the Earth '97 Tour was sponsored by the Seventh Generation Fund, the Indigenous Women's Network, and the Indigenous Environmental Network. These artists and sponsors are appreciated for their dedication to raising awareness about issues that concern us all.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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