Stresses and Successes: A Difficult Responsibility for Tribes Restoring Contaminated Lands and Water
From ITEP Team
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The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (Colville Tribes) in Washington State have endured more than a century of injuries to natural resources in and around their Reservation as a consequence of the release of hazardous substances from industrial activities, in particular the proximity of their traditional lands and waters to the world’s largest lead-zinc smelter, operated since 1896 in the city of Trail, BC (Canada), upstream of the US-Canada border on the banks of the Columbia River. The sediments of the river, the fish, and the upland soils have been contaminated with arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, and zinc from water and air emissions. Since 1999, the Colville Tribes have pressed for investigation, cleanup, and restoration of their resources through a combination of strategies: engaging the Federal government through its standard process and bureaucracy related to environmental risk assessment and remediation, taking independent action, and maintaining a focus on the end goal of restoring Tribal members’ relationship to the River. The Colville Tribes undertook successful litigation showing that the US government has jurisdiction over pollution that originated with this Canadian company and that the company is liable for contamination that is now located in the United States. This presentation will focus on the specific successes that have been achieved in these processes and the common themes that those victories share, including the Colville Tribes' understanding of their fundamental responsibility for taking care of the land and water.