Native Americans, also known as American Indians, is a name given to the indigenous group of people occupying the Northern part of America. This group is well spread out in Alaska and Hawaii. The balance in their society experienced a drastic change with the immigration of the Europeans who tagged along slaves from Africa. This new population had a conflict of interest resulting as a formation of the new and the old world societies. The Europeans brought new laws to govern the Indians, and they considered their (Indians’) way of life as less superior to their (Europeans’) sophisticated approach to life. These differences in opinions caused considerable political tension which translated to ethnic violence that caused a serious social disruption. This tension has been experienced for years and, even though, it is calm today, American still face its devastating impact. The Native Americans are oppressed and discriminated by the Europeans in the United States.
The Americans consider the Indians inferior. Since the Manifest destiny to the Indian Reservations, and the ploy of “Kill the Indian and Save the Man”, the U.S. government has tried to eradicate the Native Peoples of America. “Many people argue that unless the tribes can make economic progress they stand to lose their traditional culture in the grace of poverty and dependence. Others maintain that the land is sacred and should not be scarred by mining and drilling operations. They question the wisdom of pursuing quick wealth by extracting mineral resources from their reservation or storing radioactive waste in and on their land” (Calloway, pg 642).
“Indian Country” is defined as lands within boundaries which Indian laws and customs and federal laws relating to Indians set aside for Indians (Wilkins, pg 32). “Reservation lands were largely unwanted or remote environments of little economic valve” (Lewis, pg 423). “The struggle to balance federal trust responsibility with tribal sovereignty has constrained action, allowing businesses to take advantage of this regulatory vacuum and lax environmental corners and costs” (Lewis, pg. 437). Pollution of the air, land, and water, destruction of animal and plant life, and ruthless exploitation of natural resources all run counter to traditional Native ideals of living within the earth (Calloway, pg 645).
Access to natural and energy resources on Native American Reservations has been a debate on the issue of sovereign rights. As they embraced self-determination rights, they struggled to protect their rights regarding resources that were vital to their traditional and spiritual ways of life and the right to exercise their own decisions. Settlers’ colonies demanded their lands and eventually the Native Americans expulsion; they competed with Native Americans for the best lands, and competed for North American’s resources and dominance (Calloway, pg. 163).Choctaw had a strong spiritual and physical attachment to the earth. “Most Native people, including Choctaw, vested the earth with an overriding material quality: the earth mother gave life and sustained all living things” (Akers, pg. 67)
In the Newlands project, the government diverted the Truckee River and dammed the water for the white irrigation system. This led to the extinction of the Pyramid Paiutes (chief food source) and the Lahontan trout, other than creating a nearly destructed lake due to the diversion of the Truckee River (Lewis, pg 430). “Today’s dams raise important environmental issues of water flow through places like the Hualapai reservations in the Grand Canyon, of aquatic species preservation and Indian fishing rights…and of the ownership and sale of water”(Lewis, pg 430). As a result, Lewis (430) argues, “Future development, control, and water marketing by Shoshones, Utes, Paiutes, Navajos, Pimas, Tohono O’odhams, AkChins, and other groups raise critical economic and environmental issues.”
“The United States today hosts 104 nuclear power plants. Much of the world’s nuclear industry has been sited on or nearby Native lands” (LaDuke, pg 104). According to LaDuke; hazardous wastes from nuclear waste energy last 100,000 years on land. On the Navajo Nation, there are over 1000 abandoned uranium mines that are untouched and making the landscape a toxic waste system (LaDuke, pg 97). In Washington State, Spokane Reservation has been contaminated with the government’s nuclear experiment (LaDuke, pg 98).
Virginia Sanchez, a resident from Western Shoshone in Nevada uncovered that the government would test atomic, nuclear weapons above and below ground, and they would wait deliberately for the wind to blow North or East to avoid heavily dense populations. The Western Shoshone territory is exposed to two hundred times more radiation than the amount indicated by the government. As a result of the deliberate radiation exposure, the Shoshones have many cases of cancer ailing their peoples (LaDuke, pg. 99).
In Grassy Narrows, Canada, Reed Paper released twenty pounds of mercury into the river, this tainted fish, and locals who ate the fish showed symptoms of mercury poisoning. It took thirty years for the company to acknowledge ecological disaster, and no compensation has been paid to the local Native Americans (LaDuke, pg. 102) “We are still tested for mercury. That is a program that’s going to be here forever”, stated Steve Frobisher Chief and spokesperson of Grassy Narrows Tribe (LaDuke, pg. 103). As a result of poverty among the natives, they continue to face many environmental challenges evident from LaDuke’s (103) comments, “There are so many environmental things that have happened here that we never yelled about…because we’re poor, we just settled for money. That’s probably what the government is counting on”
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Private Fuel Storage (PFS), a limited liability corporation, is making a nuclear waste parking lot on Skull Valley Goshute reservation. If there is a future accident with containers holding the radioactive waste, concerned parties can only sue PFS, but, not the individual utilities (LaDuke, pg 103). The Goshute Indians are worried according to LaDuke, “Our forefathers…tell us how we are to live in the world if we are to continue as a people…The waste will damage our plant life, water, air, and spiritual atmosphere as well as future generations” (pg. 106). The U.S. military conducted a biological and chemical weapons test in the Dug way Proving Ground near Toole, Utah, and eventually six thousand sheep died after being exposed to nerve gas, according to the autopsy. The U.S. Department of Defense broke an agreement with the Goshute Indians and later had the U.S. Army Corps clean up the contaminated site (LaDuke, pg 105).
A nuclear facility located in Mdewakantom, Dakota, called Prairie Island plant is set up next to the reservation boundary and although, this plant produces electricity, not even one line of power is given to the Mdewakantom community. In 1979, the plant leaked radioactive material into the surrounding environment and even though, they rushed staff offsite, they did not inform the Mdewakantom community. Consequently, a research by the department of health in 1994 found that the Mdewakantom residence had six times the risk of cancers more than before the leakage (LaDuke, pg 106-107). Fay Brown, a Mdewakantom resident stated, “This is environmental racism…It was somehow acceptable to do this to Indian people. This would never ever have been tolerated in…the rich suburbs of the Twin Cities” (LaDuke, pg 108).
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Navajo miners have been exposed to uranium, causing cancers, respiratory ailments, birth defects to Navajo families in the region. Uranium mill tailings have been dumped on the banks of the San Juan River, affecting the water and eventually preventing the Navajos from consuming this water. The Laguna Pueblos Indians also face the problem of contaminated soil and water from 7,000 acres of Anaconda Jackpile uranium strip. On the other hand, the Cherokee in Gore, Oklahoma, face leaking sludge ponds created by a processing plant called Kerr McGee; this plant increases health problems with exposure to radioactive waste and environmental problems from wastes (Lewis, pg. 433-434).
During the Cold War period, the U.S. Army disposed off unknown barrels into Lake Superior. These mystery barrels dumped into the lake by the Red Cliff Reservation amounted to a total of 1,450, and results are pending to find out what they contain. According to native news network, “The primary goal is to determine if further investigation or remediation is required.”
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In conclusion, it is obvious that the Native Americans are oppressed in their own land. The U.S government has isolated them and does not pay attention to the issues which are related to their health and environment. The source of the problem can be traced back in history during the settlement of Europeans. The invasion of the Europeans into the Northern part of the country was a significant contributor to their problems. They used their superior technology on Native Americans’ land, and they have continuously despised them as inferior beings.