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Department of Defense to clean up Makah land

PORTLAND, Ore. - Contaminated soil from generator fuel tanks to a decrepit
building with crumbling asbestos to an open garbage dump. These are part of
the legacy the military left behind on the Makah Reservation from its World
War II and Cold War activities.

The Makah Tribe was tapped to receive a $1.2 million for fiscal year 2004 -
2005 from the U.S. Department of Defense Native American Lands
Environmental Mitigation Program (NALEMP). The funds are not only
ear-marked for the clean-up, they also support the development of
environmental offices and training for tribal businesses that are
undertaking the mitigation work.

"Part of the objective of NALEMP is to assist tribes in establishing an
environmental branch of government," said Makah Tribal Environmental
Program Manager, Steve Pendleton. "So what the DoD is doing is not only
assisting in the clean-up of old activities, it is helping tribes build
infrastructure to address other environmental needs."

"Environmental justice" is the tag the newly tapped tribal liaison for the
DoD, Paul Lumley, puts on NALEMP. "The Department of Defense is trying to
support subsistence, ceremonial and economic development needs even as it
empowers the tribes."

If it wasn't the threat of a Japanese attack after Pearl Harbor in the
1940s, it was fear of the Russians during the Cold War. Various branches of
the military built installations to protect the country. Unfortunately,
when post World War II and Cold War peace returned, the troops departed
leaving the detritus of their operations behind. Thus, the Makah site is
just one of many that the $10 million-program is addressing from Alaska
down to Washington state where the Makah Tribe is located, and throughout
the lower 48 states.

"The history of federal clean-ups involving federal facilities has tended
to lag behind that of the private sector," said Assistant Deputy Under
Secretary of Defense, Alex Beehler who heads NALEMP. Beehler's purview is
the environment, safety, and occupational health.

"Congress first focused the nation's most egregious smokestack-related
industry sites," Beehler said. "So the clean-up of situations that doesn't
fall into the superfund or some other category, and might not have toxins
that rank it as a priority, didn't get started until the late 1980s and
1990s."

Steve Pendleton sees the development as not only environmental justice, but
historic justice as well. "It's like the U.S. Cavalry. They've been dealing
with the tribes for a very long time if you think back on it. Way back to
the 1890s. This was the first federal agency to have in depth contact with
the tribes, and some of it was not very nice," Pendleton said. "So it's
like things are coming around full circle. The way us Native folks look at
it, it's way more than just these localized impacts since the 1950s getting
addressed. It's like the cavalry finally coming back and recognizing us.
It's something we're really grateful for and glad it's happening."

The Makah people reside on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula where the
Strait of Juan de Fuca joins the Pacific Ocean. "Our location was very
strategic to the government. We had the Navy and the Army in here,"
Pendleton said. "And the Air Force built a radar installation on our
mountain as well. Up on Bahokus Peak."

While there are a number of environmental issues on the Makah Reservation,
this fiscal year's funding of $1.2 million is tagged to tear down the
Navy's lifeboat station, an old facility with asbestos in the construction
where the tribe once housed its Head Start program. "We even had our kids
in there at one time before everyone learned about problems with asbestos,"
said Pendleton. "We're glad to see the building get torn down."

Additionally, the Makah are cleaning up Tatoosh Island, a place named after
a Makah chief from the pre-contact period. During the war years, various
federal agencies set up shop on the island and build a lighthouse with
communications facilities. "What we're running into out there," said
Pendleton, "is that everything was run off generators, and we've got soil
contamination from all the fuel tanks out there on that island."

Pendleton's job was created with NALEMP funds, as were those of the two
support specialists that assist him. Also 12 employees in various tribal
businesses that are involved in the clean-up, completed two trainings: A
24-hour hazardous materials course and a 40-hour class for hazardous waste
operators.

NALEMP works that way with all the tribes. In each case, not only do the
tribal lands benefit by having environmental problems addressed, the tribes
are strengthened by building environmental capability they can continue to
use for the greater good.

The only fault critics have brought to bear, is the low level at which the
program continues to be funded. The National Congress of American Indians
said the $10 million for the current fiscal year is too low by more than
half. NCAI issued a resolution calling for "no less than $25 million" per
year. While DoD's Alex Beehler also wishes more money was available, he
notes that as a federal agency, DoD is barred by law from lobbying
Congress. And the matter of allocating funds for NALEMP is a congressional
task.

Nonetheless, that even $10 million is available during tough economic times
and a Republican administration, could be considered a good sign. Tribes
across the nation and in Alaska are not the beleaguered societies they once
were during the aftermath of the Dawes Act and the boarding school era in
the first half of the 20th century. Indeed, growing economic and political
clout within tribal nations is gaining ground and commanding a new type of
attention. While there might still be plenty of room left for growth, the
Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program is an honorable step
in the right direction. A step that hopefully enlightened members of
Congress will build upon.