The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota, near the proposed uranium mining and milling site, supports the Oglala Sioux Tribe in its argument for inclusion in heritage studies regarding the project. Photo: South Dakota Tourism

Native Sun News Today: Oglala Sioux Tribe scores win in uranium mining case

NRC fails to address Sioux cultural, religious or historic resources

Tribe insists on government to government consultation
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today
Health & Environment Editor

ROCKVILLE, MD – Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has failed to adequately address Sioux tribal cultural, religious, and historic resources in the licensing process for the proposed uranium mines and mill at the Dewey Burdock site in the southern Black Hills, federal administrative overseers ruled October 19.

“The NRC staff must conduct a study or survey of tribal cultural resources before granting a license,” the federal Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) ordered at its headquarters in Rockville, Maryland.

The board members agreed with the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s position in an administrative appeal regarding staff’s 2014 radioactive materials-handling license for Azarga Uranium Corp.’s wholly-owned subsidiary Powertech (USA) Inc.

Ever since the company began seeking permits eight years ago, the tribe has insisted on government-to-government consultation with regulators and involvement of tribal specialists in a thoroughgoing survey of artifacts at the site, said Oglala Sioux legal counsel Jeffrey Parsons.

“Given the public interest and the potential impacts of this project, they can do better, and they should do better,” Parsons told the Native Sun News Today on October 27.

The proposed minefield and processing plant would be located on a 10,000-acre project area near Edgemont, in Custer and Fall River counties, adjacent to the Pine Ridge Reservation on unceded Lakota Territory lands illegally taken from the Great Sioux Nation in violation of the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty with the U.S. government.

“The discovery of an Indian camp and prehistoric artifacts in the tribe's treaty and aboriginal territory at issue in this application implicates important tribal interests such that the tribe's rights are threatened by the applicant's mining activity,” former Oglala Sioux Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Wilmer Mesteth testified in permit hearings.

He complained of “the failure to involve the tribe in the analysis of these sites, or to conduct any ethnographic studies in concert with a field study.” The tribe requested “that additional comprehensive and meaningful surveys be conducted and that other tribes should also be involved.”

The NRC staff based its licensing on studies by Augustana College contracted by the South Dakota State Archeologist’s office under a 2008 Memorandum of Agreement with the permit applicant. The studies identified 217 sites, 81 of which were yet to be evaluated, according to state records.

The staff explained to the ASLB that it invited 20 tribes “to participate in identification efforts” and “provided all interested tribes a reasonable opportunity to identify historic properties, advise on the identification and evaluation of such properties, comment on the undertaking, and participate in resolving potential adverse effects.”

The open-site survey methodology that staff proposed to tribes in February 2013 meant tribes could participate by sending representatives to examine any site area during a one-month period. The offer included per diem for three representatives from each tribe, mileage reimbursement, and a $10,000 no-strings-attached grant from Powertech (USA) Inc. to each tribe.

The appeals board found the results of this offer insufficient to uphold the agency’s responsibilities under the National Environmental Protection Act, or NEPA, “to protect and preserve cultural, religious, and historical sites important to the Native American tribal cultures in the Powertech project area.”

It said, “The staff failed to fulfill this obligation because the Final Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) for the project “does not contain an analysis of the impacts of the project on the cultural, historical, and religious sites of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the majority of the other consulting Native American tribes.”

It determined that staff “must conduct a study or survey of tribal cultural resources before granting a license.”

Parsons expressed “frustration” with staff. “My impression over the years is that Powertech doesn’t want to pay for the survey, and NRC staff doesn’t want to make Powertech pay for it.”


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NRC fails to address Sioux cultural, religious or historic resources

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