Sunday, August 12, 2007

Indians use federal laws and casino revenue to block developments far from reservations

“Developers are increasingly running up against newly powerful but tradition-minded American Indian leaders” in the West, such as Mike Jackson of the Quechan Indians, right, Nelson Schwartz of The New York Times reports today from the Quechan base of Yuma, Ariz. The tribe blocked creation of a gold mine and a low-level nuclear waste dump, and now is fighting construction of an oil refinery. (For a map of those sites, click here.)

Thanks to federal environmental and historic-preservation laws, Indians have impact far beyond their reservations. “In northern Arizona, Navajos, Hopis and other Indians have effectively stopped plans to expand a ski resort roughly 50 miles from the nearest reservation, after convincing a federal appellate panel in March that using wastewater to make artificial snow would desecrate peaks long held sacred,” Schwartz writes. (Photo by Jeff Topping for the Times)

In Montana, Northern Cheyenne make similar arguments “to block drilling for coal-bed methane near their reservation,” Schwartz reports. "Pumping water out of underground aquifers to extract natural gas will harm the spirits that inhabit the springs and streams where the Northern Cheyenne worship, says Gail Small, a Northern Cheyenne tribe member who heads Native Action, an environmental group she founded after graduating from law school. Adding weight to her argument is the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, ... which acknowledges the link between native American religion and land both on and off the reservation.”

“You’re seeing a real renaissance of tribes becoming aware of their cultural resources and heritage, and reclaiming that heritage even when it’s off the reservation,” University of Arizona law professor Robert Williams Jr. told the Times. He has advised tribes on the legal issues surrounding off-reservation sacred sites. Schwartz reports, “Thanks to the rise of casino gambling on Indian reservations, many tribes now have the money to challenge natural resource companies, real estate interests and other wealthy players who have long held sway in the West.” (Read more)

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