Nevada tribal leaders share concern over plutonium shipment

Pictured: Nevada's Red Rock Canyon. Native people used this area for thousands of years, living in the desert valley during the fall and winter and migrating to the hills and mountains during spring and summer. In February 2019, Tribal and Nevada leaders learned that the federal government shipped and stored hazardous materials to this sacred area at the end of 2018.(Photo: Nikola Knezevic)

Weapons-grade plutonium is being stored on ancestral homelands of the Western Shoshone people; tribal chairmen from 13 Nevada tribes expressed concerns that they were not informed or consulted in letters to President Trump and Energy Secretary Rick Perry

Press Release

Nevada Indian Commission

Leaders from 13 Nevada tribes have sent letters to President Donald Trump and U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry protesting the federal government’s shipment of a half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium to the Nevada National Security Site without informing state government officials or the tribes.

Tribal chairmen from the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, Walker River Paiute Tribe, Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone Tribe, Elko Band Council, Ely Shoshone Tribe, Yerington Paiute Tribe, Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute, which encompasses parts of Eastern Nevada and Western Utah, all expressed concerns that they were not informed or consulted about the shipment, which took place prior to November of 2018. 

“As a Southern Nevada tribe, our reservations – one in downtown Las Vegas and another in the northwestern part of the Las Vegas Valley – are in direct proximity to the transportation routes that may have been utilized for this shipment to the Nevada National Security Site,” Chris Spotted Eagle, tribal chairman of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, wrote in a letter to Perry. “Were an incident to occur during such transport, our tribal citizens would be exposed to potentially harmful impacts.” 

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak sent a letter to President Donald Trump on February 27 requesting a meeting to discuss the plutonium shipment and the administration’s plans for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site. President Trump has yet to acknowledge or respond to Governor Sisolak’s request for a meeting. 

Arlan Melendez, chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, said the plutonium is being stored on ancestral homelands of the Western Shoshone people. In a letter to Trump, he urged the president to accept the meeting with Sisolak and “that your Department of Energey Secretary work closely with our tribal and state leaders to address the specifics of this recent shipment, and to ensure that no more hazardous material is sent to and/or left behind on our land.” 

Chairman Rupert Steele of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation writes, “By sending and storing a half ton of radioactive plutonium to the State of Nevada without consultation, the United States government failed in its duty to protect Indian Tribal resources. Furthermore, by taking such a reckless and careless action, the United States government completely ignored its legal and moral responsibilities under the United States Constitution to consult with Indian tribes on actions with Indian tribal implications.” 

“This is a real concern for Nevada’s Tribes,” said Sherry Rupert, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission. “The sovereign tribes of Nevada should be afforded consultation as this decision affects their homelands and their citizens.” 

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