1
Native American Belief in Water: An Environmental Justice Context
Ian Zabarte 2015
INTRODUCTION
Yucca Mountain, Nevada i...
2
The US NRC’s supplement to the US DOE 2002 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and its
2008 Supplemental EIS is limited...
3
APPROACH
There are many ways to conduct scientific research. One way is for researchers to go into a tribal
community ex...
4
water contaminated with radiation discharged from the proposed Yucca Mountain site some time
into the future. Participat...
5
The term “affected Indian tribe” means any Indian tribe— (A) within whose reservation
boundaries a monitored retrievable...
6
respondents are elders aged sixty (60) years and older, one is under thirty (30) years old. Six (6)
respondents are in t...
7
DISCUSSION
Our study documents Native Americans beliefs about water, the use of water and the potential
impact resulting...
8
economic, or environmental effects of federal agency actions on minority and low-income
communities. Nine (9) broad them...
9
Another Western Shoshone respondent stated, “Water is life, to animals and plants. It’s supposed
to be pure…supposed to ...
10
region and beyond in the Great Basin are physically connected. Additional time may have allowed
this theme to be follow...
11
Valley, Amargosa, Ash Meadows, Tecopa and Furnace Creek. It was a real river. That’s the
Indian name for Beatty, the “r...
12
A Western Shoshone respondent speaking of radiation, “Its not meant to be there…not supposed
to be doing what they’re d...
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Western Shoshone also use prayer as a protective behavior to protect and conserve the land and
water in the Yucca Mount...
14
planning for future needs. Tribal community activities take place in the larger regional area and
are not confined to r...
15
Because of differences in diet, activities, and housing, their radiation exposures are only
very imperfectly represente...
16
community, its practices and norms of behavior, and gain an understanding of the richness of the
tribal community which...
17
REFERENCES
Cultural Conservancy Storyscape Project (2009)
Furnace Creek Land Use--Timbisha Shoshone Homeland: A draft S...
18
Western Shoshone Treaty Land, Zabarte 2003
19
20
Prayer pole/flag on Yucca Mountain, Zabarte Circa 2001.
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Native American Belief In Water 10-2015

Published on: Mar 3, 2016
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Transcripts - Native American Belief In Water 10-2015

  • 1. 1 Native American Belief in Water: An Environmental Justice Context Ian Zabarte 2015 INTRODUCTION Yucca Mountain, Nevada is undergoing licensing as a high level nuclear waste repository by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Included in this study is the potential impact to Native Americans from the release of radiation into the groundwater from the proposed high level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Native American’s tribal members have special expertise that result in a unique understanding of their environment through a shared sense of place along the Amargosa River. Their lifeways produce a perspective of risk that has not been understood despite past efforts by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Native American Interaction Program in place since the 1980’s. For the purpose of Yucca Mountain site characterization, the DOE considers the whole of Native American society through a focus on cultural resources—in essence a social disconnect. The general public including Native Americans rely on intuitive judgments called “risk perceptions.” Expert judgments and public intuition seem to suffer from the same biases: new evidence is consistent with one’s initial belief; contrary evidence is dismissed as unreliable, erroneous and unrepresentative (Slovic 1987). According to Slovic’s research the most important message is that the public conceptualization of risk is much richer than that of experts reflecting legitimate concerns that are omitted from expert risk assessment. The result of not considering public views including Native Americans is the failure of risk communication and risk management. Both the public perception and expert opinion must be respected.
  • 2. 2 The US NRC’s supplement to the US DOE 2002 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and its 2008 Supplemental EIS is limited to the potential environmental impacts from the proposed repository on groundwater and from surface discharges of groundwater. The DOE conducted an analysis of environmental justice as required by Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.” This Executive Order directs agencies to identify and consider disproportionately high and adverse human health, social, economic, or environmental effects of their actions on minority and low- income communities. The DOE environmental justice effort does not identify any high and/or adverse impacts to members of the general public. Further, DOE has not identified subsections of the population, including minority or low-income populations, who would receive disproportionate impacts. It has identified no unique exposure pathways, sensitivities, or cultural practices that would expose minority or low-income populations to disproportionately high and adverse impacts. This oversight has led the DOE Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to conclude that no disproportionately high and adverse impacts would result from the Proposed Action of the DOE. This study considers the Native American perspective that views the world as a seamless landscape with myriad connections to past, present and future use of land and water to protect and preserve the tribe.
  • 3. 3 APPROACH There are many ways to conduct scientific research. One way is for researchers to go into a tribal community extract confidential information, construct scientifically meaningful databases or questions answerable with scientifically quantifiable methods, then interpret the results based on the external values and objectives of the researches conducting the study. This approach may work well for some research studies. In cases where the tribal community has already been adversely affected, however, this approach may have disastrous effect. It leaves tribal communities feeling used and victimized beyond the initial injury which prompted concerns for the need of research in the first place. A more logical approach for both the tribal community and scientists is to include the tribal community in collaboration with scientists to do the needed research. This study uses an integrated approach using a Native American researcher to conduct interviews and interpret meaning from respondent’s interviews. This approach allows the tribal community an opportunity to understand the needs of science as well as provide a level of openness in the communication of potential tribal impacts and concerns which would not otherwise be available to scientists. A tribal researcher can obtain a deeper understanding of the internal functioning of community, its practices and norms of behavior. This research could access the richness of tribal communities interpretation which they would not otherwise have access or opportunity to realize without the direct collaborative participation of community members in the research. Our study takes place in October and November of 2015. A qualitative research approach is determined appropriate to obtain a broad range of meaning from respondents interviewed about
  • 4. 4 water contaminated with radiation discharged from the proposed Yucca Mountain site some time into the future. Participation by Native American respondents was voluntary and met fully with human subjects experimentation research protocol. Due to time and funding constraints, a Western Shoshone tribal member with expertise in conducting qualitative research and contacts with tribal community stakeholders conducted the study. Use of a tribal member aids in access to tribal communities, contact with tribal community stakeholders and facilitates the interpretation of context in interviews that are conducted. Two tribes are identified with ties to the Yucca Mountain region for the study, the Western Shoshone tribe and Southern Paiute tribe. Of these two tribes, the Western Shoshone tribe has a treaty with the US that is, “in full force and effect” according to a 1990 opinion by the Federal District Court Judge Bruce Thompson. Application and effect of the Treaty of Ruby Valley (Map Attached) is politically contentious and not used by the DOE in scientific site characterization studies of Yucca Mountain. The interviewer is a Western Shoshone with strong political views critical of the US in general, and the DOE specifically, believing that exposure to radioactive fallout in atmospheric testing of weapons of mass destruction is responsible for the adverse health consequences known to be plausible from exposure to radiation that the Western Shoshone tribe experiences. Acknowledgment of the 1863 treaty by the DOE may have prevented the expenditure of time and over $10 billion taxpayer dollars, but may have also acknowledged treaty obligations of the US. In 1998, one segment of the Western Shoshone tribe, the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, sough involvement as an “affected Indian tribe” under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (PL- 97-425). An affected Indian tribe is defined as:
  • 5. 5 The term “affected Indian tribe” means any Indian tribe— (A) within whose reservation boundaries a monitored retrievable storage facility, test and evaluation facility, or a repository for high-level radioactive waste or spent fuel is proposed to be located; and (B) whose federally defined possessory or usage rights to other lands outside of the reservation's boundaries arising out of congressionally ratified treaties may be substantially and adversely affected by the locating of such a facility: Provided, that the Secretary of the Interior finds, upon the petition of the appropriate governmental officials of the tribe, that such effects are both substantial and adverse to the tribe. As an “affected Indian tribe” the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe is eligible for funding to conduct its own site characterization of the proposed Yucca Mountain site and participate as an admitted party to the NRC licensing proceedings. The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe was not formally contacted for this study and is anticipated to provide its own formal comments in the licensing proceedings. However, individual tribal members were contacted and did participate in this study. The investigator contracted by the State of Nevada to conduct our study made initial contact to the Western Shoshone respondents was made by attending a cultural event at Poohabah, a traditional Native American healing center at Tecopa, California. Follow-up was made by telephone and site visits to each individual contacted. Southern Paiute people were contacted by telephone and then site visits made to each individual contacted on the Moapa River Indian Reservation at Moapa, Nevada. The study identified ten (10) individuals known to the interviewer to be knowledgeable of living tribal lifeways in the Yucca Mountain region. Six (6) individuals are Western Shoshone and four (4) are Southern Paiute. Seven (7) respondents are female and three (3) are male. Three
  • 6. 6 respondents are elders aged sixty (60) years and older, one is under thirty (30) years old. Six (6) respondents are in their fifties (50’s). The interviewer made contact with additional tribal members from Western Shoshone, Southern Paiute and other regional tribes with interest and concern that are willing to participating but, could not be pursued because of time and funding restraints. No federally recognized tribes or tribes with affected tribe status were contacted, but should have been, if funding and time were available for a thorough study. During each interview a map of the Death Valley regional groundwater flow system is provided to respondents to focus the interview. Transportation issues were briefly discussed. Each interview is taped and a copy of the interview accompanies this study. Major themes were identified before the interviews. Coding of interview responses was conducted after interviews were conducted. Respondents were interviewed individually or in groups of two. Respondent interviews were documented upon a rectangular matrix listing respondents and the common issues each reported when interviewed.
  • 7. 7 DISCUSSION Our study documents Native Americans beliefs about water, the use of water and the potential impact resulting from contamination to water used by tribal people. This is done within the context of environmental justice considering disproportionately high and adverse human health, social, Theme/ Respondent/ Tribe Home Water is life One water/ Connected Medicine/ Plants/ minerals Prevent Contami nation Poison/ destroy tribe Distrust Govern ment Protective behavior/ Praying Stigma Enviro Justice Darlene Graham Western Shoshone Poohabah/ Tecopa X X X X X Barbara Durham Western Shoshone Timbisha/ Furnace Creek X X X X Mandy Campbell Western Shoshone Timbisha/ Furnace Creek X X X X X Pauline Esteves Western Shoshone Timbisha/ Furnace Creek X X X X X Vickie Simmons Southern Paiute Moapa X X X X X Deanna Domingo Southern Paiute Moapa/ Pahrump X X X X X X Unice Ohte Southern Paiute Moapa/ Logandale X X Vernon Lee Southern Paiute Moapa/ Tecopa X X X X X Joe Kennedy Western Shoshone Timbisha/ Lida X X X X X X X Patti Kennedy Western Shoshone Timbisha/ Lida X X X Totals % 100% 50% 50% 50% 60% 20% 100% 30% 10%
  • 8. 8 economic, or environmental effects of federal agency actions on minority and low-income communities. Nine (9) broad themes were considered for coding Native American responses. Water is life, is a theme identified universally among respondents. This theme is viewed from the religious perspective of spiritual life; and from the perspective of physically life-giving nourishment that water provides. A Southern Paiute respondent spoke of the Southern Paiute peoples sense of place as being where the water is, “The people would all be where the water was. That’s path that everyone would take and how we would find all our stuff.” Another respondent recalled a Southern Paiute elder, Clarabell Jim, now 100+ years old telling of the water flow from Forty Mile Wash when she was a little girl, “There, that is where they got their salt. Then if the radiation gets in there, then the salts no good.” The response demonstrates the Southern Paiute connection to the land and sense of place. Southern Paiute practice a ceremony called the Salt Song Trail that represent ancient villages, gathering sites for salts and medicinal herbs, trading routes, historic sites, sacred areas, ancestral lands and pilgrimages in the physical and spiritual landscape (Cultural Conservancy 2009). Another Southern Paiute respondent spoke of the water historically used by his family, “Natives have a true connection to the land…being proper stewards of the land. Water is a sacred thing. It’s just life giving water…without water nothing happens.” Western Shoshone responses also shared the theme, water is life. “Everything has a spirit. I believe in the water spirit.” Speaking of how she knows, intuitively, “I know water is life. Mineral water is good for your body. It is important to believe water will help them.”
  • 9. 9 Another Western Shoshone respondent stated, “Water is life, to animals and plants. It’s supposed to be pure…supposed to heal. It’s healing waters are known to be healing because of their warmth. They go there if they get sick…bathe and give prayers there. We have been here before written time. There have been a lot of people that tried to get rid of us. But, if it (radiation) is going to be detrimental to our health, then we have to take care of the people. If we got no water, then what? We supposed to survive on bottled water? Another respondent spoke of Western Shoshone Spiritual Leader, Corbin Harney, recounting his story, “He was supposed to go out and better the people and the environment through water. Then he figured it out. The spirit will come to him through water. Then he found healing water. Its very important.” Corbin Harney spoke of the water talking to him, telling him to go to the healing water. Corbin Harney followed the message given to him by the “water spirit” for many years looking for the place told of, and in 1998 founded Poohabah at Tecopa, California. Poohabah means doctor water in the Shoshone language. Poohabah plays a role maintaining Western Shoshone traditional lifeways and sponsor Cultural Sharing Weekend(s) each year. Western Shoshone never know where or when the spirit of the land (or water) is going to come to them. Taking away or destroying these sacred landscapes may limit or destroy their connection to the “spirit” of the land, a living religious lifeway. One water, is a theme that half of the respondents touched upon. This theme is viewed from two perspectives, that all water in its various forms are connected; and, all water in the Yucca Mountain
  • 10. 10 region and beyond in the Great Basin are physically connected. Additional time may have allowed this theme to be followed in each perspective and observed from all respondents. Two (2) Western Shoshone respondents gave accounts of the physical connection of water. Speaking of radiation, “It’s going to get there. My dad (Shoshone elder) tells a story of putting a vessel…didn’t know what it was made of, into Fish Lake and it popped out at Devils Hole. I wondered…it wouldn’t take a lifetime. How do we not know they are connected. There is also a story by my grandfather of a creature that goes back and for the between Walker Lake, Fish Lake and Deep Springs.” The second Western Shoshone respondent also mentioned two stories. “A Paiute man spoke of his grandmother putting something into the water over here in Amargosa and it came up over here in Badwater. In Lone Pine…somebody put it in, a plant I think…put it in the aquifer, water running through Lone Pine there and it came up at here at Badwater. That’s two stories with the same outcome. Pahrump is separate. Devils Hole is on our side.” These two accounts demonstrate a prehistoric tribal knowledge and belief of the interconnected water flow system of the Yucca Mountain region. Western Shoshone “know” that radiation released from the proposed Yucca Mountain repository will reach the tribal community village at Furnace Creek in Death Valley, California. A third account by a Western Shoshone elder also confirmed the physical water being connected. “We are always involved in water at Amargosa cause of the flow. They’re all connected…Oasis
  • 11. 11 Valley, Amargosa, Ash Meadows, Tecopa and Furnace Creek. It was a real river. That’s the Indian name for Beatty, the “river.” The theme, medicine, plants, minerals is observed in half of the respondents. A Western Shoshone respondent spoke of water at Poohabah, Tecopa being, “Mineral water…good for your body. At the pools I sing and give thanks for what our bodies need.” Water then, nourishes the physical body in health and in sickness. As aforementioned by the same respondent, “Its important to believe water will help them.” This statement reflects the belief that any radioactive contamination is unacceptable and will do harm. Another Western Shoshone respondent, the youngest of those contacted, spoke intimately of the water, “Water is our everything. You have to have it for your food…crops, everything, our mesquite. Everything would die out here.” Mesquite is a food source, medicine and shelter that is in continuous use by the Timbisha Shoshone. Mesquite is important and is contemplated for future use by conservation planning today. (Attachment -Furnace Creek Land Uses) The Western Shoshone elder stated that, “We didn’t want to be in one place and we make sure. That’s why we have Scotty’s Junction, Lida Ranch, all with water. Natives didn’t live like that. Never over using it. We moved…then we would move on. They knew there was another generation of animals coming. They needed food for their young ones.” Water is viewed as essential to the land use and planning needs of the Timbisha Shoshone to nourish plants for consumption by indigenous animals and ultimately, conservatively, use and consumption of animals by the Western Shoshone people.
  • 12. 12 A Western Shoshone respondent speaking of radiation, “Its not meant to be there…not supposed to be doing what they’re doing. When you take it away (water)…culture and religion when you should be able to use it. Once you take that water away from the people and they can’t use that water anymore that’s who they are being. That water give them these certain minerals…and that’s supposed to be there and makes them who they are. That’s they’re make-up is that water. If they don’t have it , that’s not who they are.” The respondent identifies a sense of place and being of a Timbisha Shoshone. Their identity is connected to unique minerals in the water flows that are essential to the construction of tribal community identity. Radioactive contamination threatens the identity of the Timbisha Shoshone. “Each spring has its own minerals and flavors. Certain muds are used to cleanse and suck out poison.” Medicinal uses of water are clearly recounted by Western Shoshone respondents. Protective behavior including praying was also universally addressed by all respondents. Praying is a living tribal lifeway that acknowledges the importance of life and the intent by tribal community to protect and conserve the land and water. A Southern Paiute respondent states, “We have to save it because we might really need it, that water.” Another Southern Paiute commented about water, “Spiritual uses for it. You help the stuff grow. You don’t get the water to help like plants and stuff, you don’t get anything. You have to feed the earth…in order to help it grow. It was blessed. You blessed that water. You blessed that ground. You blessed those…” Living tribal lifeways include praying as helping the land and plants, a conservation method.
  • 13. 13 Western Shoshone also use prayer as a protective behavior to protect and conserve the land and water in the Yucca Mountain region. A Western Shoshone respondent details traditional tribal religious practices, “Always pray for the water here (Poohabah)…seeing things spiritually. At ceremony I offer water...to heal Mother Earth. Prayer pole, vision quests, morning circle and sweats at Yucca Mountain.” Western Shoshone continue to practice traditional tribal ceremonies on their land at Yucca Mountain without DOE permission (Photo 1). Another Western Shoshone respondent stated, “You pray for everything, you pray for the sun to come up, water to flow and be pure and the human race to go on…everyone else too.” You use it (water) to cleanse yourself, you use it to pray, make yourself good.” Still another Western Shoshone respondent describes the water as sacred, “When it comes from the sky and comes to earth…we have to take care of and respect it, use it in your prayers. The places where water is, are very important. Only spiritual people can go in there and use that water first. No one can go in there. The spiritual people go in there and talk to the water before anyone can go in there and use that water.” CONCLUSION Western Shoshone and Southern Paiute people are spiritual people who continue to practice conservation and protective behavior through prayer which produces a shared sense of community- -a living tribal lifeway. Each tribe depends on the purity of water for their continued existence as it flows from the land. Their tribal activity is based upon the use and conservation of water,
  • 14. 14 planning for future needs. Tribal community activities take place in the larger regional area and are not confined to reservation(s) boundaries. Tribal knowledge is drawn from a lifestyle of interdependence with the surrounding environment for food, water and the construction of tribal identity through conservation and prayer practiced in the tribal community. Prayer practiced in tribal communities is a method for bringing awareness to conservation of land and water, a living lifeway defining tribal identity and sense of place—passing down tribal knowledge to future generations. Native Americans need to have an ongoing connection to “place(s)” to maintain their identity as a distinct people. A failure of the environment can result in the ruin of tribal identity. A different lifestyle, diet, shelter, mobility and prayer define Native American living lifeways. Prayer, conservation and protective measures are also used to pass on traditions and a sense of place. Based on lifestyle differences, exposure to Native American is likely to be higher than the non-Native American public. Increased exposure risk would be evidenced by difference in diet, what they eat and how they prepared their food; shelter, where they live and what their houses are made of; mobility, where they went, how long they spent there, and what they did there. Lifestyle differences exist between the general public and Native American tribal communities. This idea has been reinforced over and over again by the US. Native American collaborative research has found significant increase in exposure to radiation based on lifestyle differences. The reasonably maximally exposed individual modeled for the Yucca Mountain project is not appropriate to use for Native Americans. The DOE has not considered alternative lifestyle more closely related to the Native American living lifeway found to exist in this study. Native American research has found that:
  • 15. 15 Because of differences in diet, activities, and housing, their radiation exposures are only very imperfectly represented in the Department of Energy dose reconstructions. There are important missing pathways, including exposures to radioactive iodine from eating small game. The dose reconstruction model assumptions about cattle feeding practices across a year are unlikely to apply to the native communities as are other model assumptions about diet. Thus exposures from drinking milk and eating vegetables have not yet been properly estimated for these communities. Through consultations with members of the affected communities, these deficiencies could be corrected and the dose reconstruction extended to Native Americans (Quigley and others 2000). Participation by Native American respondents was voluntary and used methods that met fully with ethical standards of human subjects experimentation. Many respondents found during the interview process new insights and meaningful connections between past experiences and the present. These new insights suggest the possibility of deeper understanding and meaning not yet expressed. A follow-up study could unlock valuable knowledge about Native American experiences. Use of a tribally affiliated researcher allows the tribal community the opportunity to understand the needs of science as well as provide a level of openness in the communication of impacts, concerns and derived meaning which would not otherwise be available to researchers. Additional positive benefits include a tribal community based understanding of nuclear issues. Also, researchers can obtain a deeper understanding and care of the internal functioning of tribal
  • 16. 16 community, its practices and norms of behavior, and gain an understanding of the richness of the tribal community which they would not otherwise have access or opportunity to realize without the direct participation of tribal member as the researcher. Time was the most important resource lacking in this study leaving the researcher without sufficient time to conduct more extensive interviews and interpretation of more specific meaning. Failure to provide effective notice, funding and time to respond may be a cause of environmental justice for not providing Native Americans ample support and time for review.
  • 17. 17 REFERENCES Cultural Conservancy Storyscape Project (2009) Furnace Creek Land Use--Timbisha Shoshone Homeland: A draft Secretarial Report to Congress to Establish a Permanent Tribal Land Base and Related Cooperative Activities (circa 1990) Cardinalli, Death Valley Regional Groundwater Flow System (1968) Paul Slovic, Perception of Risk. Source: Science, New Series, Vol. 236, No. 4799 (1987) Quigley and others, The Assessment of Radiation Exposures in Native American Communities From Nuclear Weapons Testing in Nevada, Risk Anal. (2000) Thompson, US v. Dann (1990) U.S. Department of Energy 2002. Final Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada. DOE/EIS-0250. Washington, D.C. U.S. Department of Energy 2008. Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada. DOE/EIS-0250F-S1. Las Vegas, Nevada. US v. Dann (1990)
  • 18. 18 Western Shoshone Treaty Land, Zabarte 2003
  • 19. 19
  • 20. 20 Prayer pole/flag on Yucca Mountain, Zabarte Circa 2001.

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