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Standing Rock developing telecom, creating opportunities

This letter is written in response to the article ''Cell phone tower to be built in botanical sanctuary,'' by Stephanie Woodard [Vol. 27, Iss. 5]. The article made it appear that no cultural or environmental impacts were considered in the development of the Standing Rock Telecommunication Project. This simply is not true.

This project has a well-documented history and was started in 2001 to address unserved and underserved communities within our reservation boundaries. When the telecommunication project first started in 2001, only 52 percent of Indian people had wireline telephone service on the reservation. Local calling and lower costs for phone service hookups became available within the reservation only after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe initiated the telecommunication project which forced the companies operating on our reservation to address their poor quality of service delivery to our community members. Prior to this project, tribal members living in most districts were required to pay long distance charges to access our government, public safety, hospitals, schools and family.

Presently, there is only one tower located within the exterior boundaries of the Standing Rock reservation which makes wireless telecommunication services for our members virtually non-existent. This tower is owned by Verizon - an off-reservation corporation with no oversight by the tribe. Ironically, many of our community members have cell phones already, but cannot use them on our reservation because there is limited-to-no service available to them.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is working to develop a 100 percent tribally owned telecommunication company to correct longstanding service issues and create economic opportunities for our members.

In the article, several statements were made regarding a lack of tribal input and the magnitude of the environmental assessment that was completed for the project. The key objectives of this project have been to work closely with tribal government representatives on an ongoing basis; to work closely with tribal programs; and to seek community input throughout the development of this project.

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The tribe has exercised its rights as a sovereign nation throughout the development of this project. In 2003, the tribe initiated the process of exercising telecommunication regulatory authority to address the service issues experienced by the majority of our community members. A comprehensive regulatory code has been drafted that is based on tribal law and custom, principles of federal Indian law and federal communication law including universal service. The code in fact models federal telecommunications laws in a manner that respects and protects Tribal sovereignty and culture.

In your article, Ms. Clendinning and Mr. Firstenberg are represented as experts on wireless technology. In interviews that were done on the local radio station, these two individuals disputed credible sources of current and available health and environmental information available in the United States on cell towers and phones. Instead, the individuals based their opinions on outdated information and questionable sources.

Standing Rock Utilities is working to provide information to community members to assure that they have access to the most current and credible sources of information available on health and environmental considerations of wireless technology.

- Mark White Bull

Fort Yates, N.D.

White Bull is the project director for Standing Rock Utilities for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.