Regina Brave: Don't take health or environment for granted

The following opinion was written by Regina Brave, Native Sun News Staff Writer . All content © Native Sun News.

Did working at the Ordnance Depot in Igloo cause cancer?
By Regina Brave
Native Sun News Staff Writer

It’s gratifying to read that so many South Dakota and Nebraska farmers, ranchers and citizens opted to take a stand against the Keystone XL Pipeline.

It isn’t just a possible contamination of our aquifers, but the effects to our environment and all living things. Mni ki un wiconi, mni ki un wiconzani!

Our people know this, ranchers and farmers know this. Go into any grocery store and walk through the aisles, most of the meat, poultry, pork, produce, wheat products, processed and canned goods come from this “sparsely populated” corridor from the Canadian border to Texas.

There are processing plants in this corridor dependent on water from the Ogallala Aquifer. Many of us take it for granted we should always have an abundance of food and no shortage of water. An oil leak into the aquifer would certainly change every aspect of our lives and the lives of people in other countries who are dependent on wheat, barley, oats, soy and other processed and dehydrated food products shipped overseas as part of trade agreements through USDA?

Imagine a leak into the aquifers not just from Keystone XL, but contamination and pollution from other natural resource developers who purport existing but untried safety measures when drilling through an aquifer. When the resources are exhausted they pack up and leave their contamination and pollution behind. What do they care that thousands of lives are affected or will be affected?

Since the 1950s to the present time we’ve lost hundreds of our people to cancer, diabetes and other diseases. In the 1940s many of our people worked at the ammunition depot in Igloo. Deaths and dying continues. Some of the people who had worked on the assembly line without protection were the first to be diagnosed with cancer: Women with breast cancer and uterine cancer and men with liver and prostate cancer.

No one knew where or why women and men were dying of cancer. If workers weren’t affected they carried the cancer cell that passed it on to their children. Women could not carry their baby to term. One woman had lost four babies. Her fifth child is the only she would ever have. Her mother had worked on the assembly line. She began her own investigation by looking for people whose parents worked in Igloo and asked if any had died of cancer.

Another form of cancer is leukemia and there may be other effects which come under “questionable,” children born with holes in their heart, susceptible to lung diseases, such as tuberculosis, asthma, chronic bronchitis, allergies and lung cancer. Has there ever been any type of study done to track the children, grandchildren of the people who worked in Igloo? Does a list exist of the people who worked Igloo in the forties?

Not knowing of the harmful effects of radiation, tailings from the mine was mixed with cement for foundations and in the basements. In the late 60’s houses which workers lived in were donated to the Tribe and are known as Igloo houses.

On the Pine Ridge twenty babies age 6 months to 18 months old died all within one year, January 1970 to September 1970.Only two parents asked for an autopsy. The 11 month old couldn’t hold her food down, lost a lot of weight in a very short time, and was referred to St. Mary’s in Rapid City. She went blind just prior to her death. The mother asked for a complete autopsy which was performed at Behren’s Mortuary. She was diagnosed with Acute Enterocolitis.

IHS withheld the autopsy report and released it with Tribal intervention. The 9 month boy was autopsied by I.H.S. and diagnosed with malnutrition. His symptoms were the same as the 11 month old. Parents of the two autopsied babies lived in Igloo houses. What killed the babies: Radiation poisoning? The diagnosis may have been different. She had become suspicious when Indian Health withheld the autopsy report. Years later, children in Igloo were diagnosed with leukemia, the basements in their homes had radon, is this a watered down term for radiation?

In the 1980s the old school at Redshirt Table was torn down because of asbestos where men from the Village worked without any type of protection. Asbestos in barrels were grouped near the temporary school buildings. Everyday teachers, children, parents and employees walked by them. Community members attended meetings, dinners and other activities in the old gym nearby.

For more than 10 years the barrels remained there in spite of Redshirt’s concern. In 1991 John Her Many Horses, Councilman from Wounded Knee District contacted Ellsworth Air Force Base to remove the barrels. Personnel came dressed in silver protection gear to remove the barrels. They attracted a lot of attention because they looked like “Astronauts,” justifiably, because these suits have self-contained oxygen. Recently I asked where these barrels were taken. They’re buried somewhere down in the Redshirt Village area.

The Cheyenne River, which is contaminated from the coal mining in Wyoming, runs through the valley near the Village also. What about the men who were exposed to asbestos? Are there any possible health hazards on the Pine Ridge?

We need an educated Tribal Council who can better utilize their $10,000 travel allocation by investigating and addressing the health issues that exist on the Pine Ridge. Alcoholism is a disease which is killing our people. Instead of planning to spend several million more dollars to bring alcohol on the reservation, they should channel all that effort and money into building a Rehabilitation Center to address all manner of addictions our people are faced with.

Why is the Tribal Council so interested in putting Indian Health Service under Public Law 93-638? Do they know what it takes to run a hospital? Whose side are you really on? Never mind, I know you are a United States government entity (under the Wheeler-Howard Act of 1934, known as the Indian Reorganization Act) supportive of their genocidal policies and are willingly in favor of violating the Ft. Laramie Treaty under which we have health care.

Alcohol on the reservation also falls in the same category as genocidal policy. Taku ca oyakahniga pi sni he? Oh yes, you can’t hide behind Legislative Immunity or Sovereign Immunity when you knowingly violate Ordinances and the Treaty (AND the oath you took!)

(Regina Brave can be reached at P.O. Box 512, Oglala, SD 57764)

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

Join the Conversation