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Contaminated water lies under our reservation lands

Water is our greatest resource. Every living creature needs water to live. Our ancestors referred to water as our first medicine and water was considered to be a gift from the Great Spirit.

Today, Native peoples across this country are called the keepers of the earth. Personally I have my doubts about this because if you take a drive through my reservation you will see that somewhere

I had the opportunity to visit the community of Milk's Camp, an outermost housing cluster of the Rosebud Reservation. I heard someone say they had been without water for more than a year.

Their water has been contaminated with high levels of nitrates and arsenic going on two years. The Indian Health Service has been bringing out 28 cases of bottled water to this community every couple weeks. But every now and then they don't show up with the bottled water so the people

I believe that they drink it because the IHS and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe's water department haven't been educating this community in the dangers of consuming high levels of nitrates. As a matter of fact, they have been telling them they can cook and bathe in this water which is a health risk.

When they first tested the water, community members were told they could still cook with it and bathe in it but couldn't drink it. A few babies had been getting sick from this water. They tested it again and the community was told adults could drink it but not the children. Later the community was informed that adults couldn't drink the water.

IHS and the water department informed the community this problem would be fixed in six months when they first discovered the problem, but as one community member put it, 'That was over a year ago and nothing was ever done.'

Milk's Camp members said their councilman didn't care about the problem.

Other councilmen and women said they had not heard of the water problem and were shocked when they found out.

I have found some information on nitrates.

High levels of nitrate in household water supplies can be of grave concern, especially to families with infants. Human babies are extremely susceptible to acute nitrate poisoning because of certain bacteria that may live in their digestive system during the first few months of life. These bacteria change nitrate into toxic nitrite (NO2). The nitrite reacts with hemoglobin (which carries oxygen to all parts of the body) to form methemoglobin, which does not carry oxygen. The level of oxygen being carried throughout the body decreases in proportion to the amount of hemoglobin converted to methemoglobin.

As the oxygen level decreases, the baby is gradually suffocated. This condition is called methemoglobinemia commonly referred to as 'blue baby' disease.

If your water supply has been tested and the report shows the water has a high nitrate level, you must immediately stop feeding it to infants.

The surest way to deal with a contaminated water supply is to find a new, clean water supply. Nitrate is a very soluble substance, easily dissolved in water and extremely hard to remove. Treatment for nitrate is, therefore, very complicated and expensive.

There is no simple way to remove all nitrate from your water. Although it is common to think of boiling, softening or filtration as a means of purifying water, none of these methods reduce nitrate contamination.

Boiling water (for cooking or bathing) is the worst thing to do because it actually concentrates the nitrate. Softening and filtration do nothing at all to remove nitrate'(The National Ag Safety Database).

When ground water becomes polluted, it tends to stay that way. Few processes operate in ground water which would naturally break down pollutants. And, because it is hidden below the surface of the earth, ground water is very difficult to clean up. When we pollute ground water, we cause very serious damage that will last for many generations.

Any activity that places pollution on the surface of the earth where it could be carried by rain or other processes down into ground water has the potential to pollute ground water such as pesticide use in agriculture.

If we are the true keepers of the earth as people say, then along with this statement comes responsibility.

Milk's Camp is a good example of disrespect for the land, water and the people. They can fix the problem. Three miles east of Milk's Camp is a rural water pipeline. Tapping into it is their only option, an option they should have taken more than a year ago rather than allowing our relatives to live with this contaminated water.

Editor's note: The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Standing Stone Media Inc., publishers of Indian Country Today.