Skip to main content

Cherokee Nation says no to 'Haiti Ash Barge'

TAHELQUAH, Okla. - The Cherokee Nation does not plan to allow its land become a repository for toxic ash that has traveled around the world for nearly 17 years as the 'Haiti Ash Barge,' looking for a place to be dumped.

The tribal statement followed release of a press advisory from residents in the Tahlequah area who formed a task force to oppose what they argue is a done deal between the Cherokee and Waste Management to use tribal land for a toxic dump site.

'There are no deals in place nor are there likely to be to take this material under any circumstances,' the Cherokee director of Communications Mike Miller said.

The material in question started out in Philadelphia, Pa. The city burned its municipal waste in large incinerators, but realized there were problems finding a place to dump the toxic ash. In 1986 the city contracted with a company to remove 14,000 tons of ash which was loaded onto the Khian Sea. Its first stop was the Bahamas, where opponents of the proposed Cherokee dumpsite said the government turned the ship away as did Puerto Rico, Bermuda, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and the Netherlands.

Greenpeace followed the ship's activities and alerted countries along its route to the fact cargo was mislabeled as topsoil fertilizer when it was allowed to dock in Haiti in 1987. Testing there found the cargo contained lead, cadmium and other heavy metals as well as dioxins.

The ash barge is anchored in a Florida canal awaiting a final resting place for the ash.

Waste Management contacted the Cherokee Nation and offered to pay to use Cherokee land as a burial site. Although the nation was assured the waste was at safe levels, officials didn't take the information at face value and contacted both Greenpeace and the Environmental Protection Agency about safety of the materials.

'The Cherokee Nation has always had a policy of environmental protection,' Miller said. 'Our land and environment is very important to us, to keep it as clean as possible. A traditional Cherokee belief is that no one person owns the earth, it belongs to all of us. We don't damage it. We have never taken toxic or any kind of chemicals onto our land or into our landfills, we're not changing our policy.'

Miller said he couldn't understand why a task force was even discussed since both sides wanted the same thing -- no toxic chemical waste on Cherokee Nation land.

'We were contacted by Waste Management that has this problem on their hands and asked if we would be interested in having this material in our landfill. We said we would have to figure out what was going on,' Miller said.

'In that process they invited us to test it because they say it is safe enough to put in a landfill, but we had to find out for ourselves. We checked with other people who voiced concerns, including Greenpeace. ? We asked them for their input and instead of giving us their input, they made a big deal out of it or whatever it is they are trying to do. Obviously their input is that there is a problem.

'We asked the EPA and they are going to get back to us.

'At no point were we going to change our policy to take any kind of material that would cause chemical or toxic problems ? the company that was approaching us told us it wasn't harmful, but we didn't believe it.

'There is no deal, not likely to be a deal based on feedback on the sources that we have contacted,' Miller said. 'What is odd about this, is the person who sent this press release is on the same side as the Cherokee Nation, but you couldn't tell by reading it.'We all are committed to a clean environment. We all are committed to not seeing the Cherokee Nation landfill becoming a repository for anything that is dangerous, poisonous or hazardous. We are all on the same page with that. There are no deals in place nor are there likely to be to take this material under any circumstances,' Miller said.

Principal Chief Chad Smith added, 'We will not be accepting this material at our landfill. The Cherokee Nation has a reputation as an environmental leader and we have never allowed dangerous material to be disposed of on tribal lands or in our landfill. That policy has not changed and will not change.'