- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 2004

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The last major push by the U.S. Army against American Indian tribes took place in the late 1800s, but a report finds that the military still poses a danger to them.

The study says the dramatic expansion of U.S. military bases during the 20th century was largely concentrated in the same remote, arid places in the West that tribal reservations were located.

That means American Indians could be disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals and unexploded bombs when compared with non-Indians, said the report by Gregory Hooks of Washington State University and a former graduate student, Chad Smith, now of Texas State University at San Marcos.

Two world wars and the Cold War “pushed the United States to produce, test and deploy weapons of unprecedented toxicity,” the study says. “Native Americans have been left exposed to the dangers of this toxic legacy.”

The study, published in American Sociological Review, is based on geography, not on data showing whether American Indians are injured more often by unexploded bombs, Mr. Hooks said.

Using Defense Department data on closed military bases in the continental United States — including bombing ranges, weapons testing and storage sites — researchers discovered that the locations deemed most hazardous “lay within close proximity to Indian reservations,” the report says.

The study considered only closed military bases because security concerns make it impossible to learn about environmental hazards at functioning military bases, Mr. Hooks said.

Therefore, military facilities such as Washington’s Yakima Training Center, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and Fort Lewis, all of which are located near Indian reservations, were not considered in the study, Mr. Hooks said.

That raises the prospect that dangers to American Indians are even greater than what was found in the report, he said.

The Defense Department has acknowledged the problems, the report said, quoting a 2001 department report that said American Indian lands have “hazardous materials, unexploded ordnance (UXO), abandoned equipment, unsafe buildings, and debris.”

The government estimates that unexploded ordnance, which can include mines, nerve gases and explosive shells, contaminates 20 million to 50 million acres of land in the United States and would take centuries to clean up at current rates.

Numerous studies have shown that minority groups often face so-called “environmental racism” from dangerous factories and other commercial facilities because poverty limits the places where they can afford to live.

American Indians typically did not choose the sites of their reservations, and the toxic wastes were created not by private industry but by the military.

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