Apache Case Study

    The case of the Mescalero Apache Tribe is similar to the Campo Indian case. In each case, Native American tribes tried to allow parts of their reservation land to be used for waste disposal. But unlike the Campo case in which the tribe merely wanted to establish a non-toxic landfill, the Mescalero Apaches wanted to create a site used to store nuclear waste temporarily until the Federal Government could build their own facility. Lynne E. Blais, Environmental Racism Reconsidered, 75 N.C. L. Rev. 75, 112 (1996).

    The Mescalero Apaches are a Native American tribe located in southern New Mexico. Id. While the sources lead me to conclude that they had a higher standard of living than the Campo tribe, the Mescaleros still endured the poverty that inhabitants of many Indian reservations face. Many in the tribe believed that the storage facility would help combat economic hardship by providing funds to improve the area's infrastructure, build schools, and pursue other goals.

    Because of the great benefits and costs of storing nuclear waste, the tribe was not united on the issue.  Although Mescalero leaders supported the facility, the tribe members initially voted against it. Id. at 113-114. Within a month, the tribe voted again. This time, they approved the bill. Id. at 114.

    Like the Campo Indians, the Mescalero Apaches' plan was met with some state resistance. Members of the New Mexico state government worried about the site's environmental consequences. They also feared that the vote to open the facility had been "bought" and that the final decision really did not represent the true opinion or the interests of the tribe. id.

    The Mescalero case raises questions similar to the Campo situation regarding economic rationality and paternalism. Should the Indians have the power of self-determination?  That is, should they be able to decide rationally that the monetary benefits of allowing a nuclear waste facility outweigh health and environmental risks inherent in storing radioactive materials? Or, is any federal attempt to "buy" the right to store nuclear waste on Indian lands inherently unfair to tribes? Many environmentalists (most of whom probably oppose the use of all nuclear power) and Native American advocates believed that the government took advantage of the tribe's situation. Tribal leaders responded, arguing that the facility would provide for better services and opportunities for the tribe's members.

    The Leonard article is a very good account of the Apache controversy. Louis G. Leonard, III, Comment, Sovereignty, Self-Determination, and Environmental Justice in the Mescalero Appache's Decision to Store Nuclear Waste, 24 B.C. Envtl. Aff. L. Rev. 651 (1997). Leonard explores the history of Indian sovereignty while describing in detail the events surrounding the Mescaleros' decision. The Blais article provides a good, brief summary of the situation that should be read before diving into the Leonard article's complexity.