Wasting Away

Matt Adams

MDEWAKANTON Dakotas living in the shadow of Prairie Island's cask-stored nuclear waste want a chance to move away, the tribe's chairman told a Minnesota House of Representatives committee last Thursday. Another tribal representative asked for a health study, saying cancer has become the leading cause of death on the reservation.

"We've had members come and tell us they don't like living with nuclear waste," tribal council chair Darrell Campbell told Rep. Willard Munger's (DFL-Duluth) Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Many older members "wouldn't leave (Prairie Island) if it was sinking into the Mississippi, but the younger ones want a choice," he said. More than half of the tribe's 557 members are 18 or younger.

"For four years we've listened to the Legislature say the health and safety of the community would be addressed," Campbell said. He asked the Legislature to design a relocation program so that those who wish can move away.

Audrey Bennett, the tribe's government representative, told legislators that tribal members are coping with cancer of all types, and "everyone-- men and women--are developing lumps under their arms." Brain, breast, colon, and ovarian cancer have been diagnosed among members, Bennett said, and people seem to be dying younger. "Where are our elders?" she asked. "We used to have 30 or 40 people who were living into their 90s. Now we have seven." Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) promised to sponsor a health-study bill in the next session.

Some legislators appeared sympathetic to the requests. "Our hearts go out to you for having to live next to it," said Rep. Mark Holsten (R-Stillwater). Other members mentioned casino profits. Hadn't the tribe recently bought some nearby land, asked Rep. Jerry Dempsey (R-Hastings). Why didn't they use that for relocation?

Bennett replied, "The land is in a flood plain, so it's unbuildable. We're thinking about using it to build a straighter escape route."

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