The impact of environmental injustice on Indigenous populations in the United States

by Molly Dye
September 9th, 2021

Since the early days of colonialism, environmental injustice has strongly impacted indigenous communities across the world. Recently, studies have found that indigenous populations face high-risk exposure to environmental pollution from landfills, waste facilities, and pipelines. Specifically, in the United States, governmental and corporate entities have used areas proximal to Native communities and Tribes for hazardous waste disposal.

When it comes to Native-American reservations, many do not receive external revenue and have endured extreme poverty, making them susceptible targets of dangerous industrial by-products. In addition, corporations often use reservation land as a route for transportation and as a location for dumping sites. The pollution that disproportionately affects Native American Tribes not only has an impact on physical health, but has also negatively impacted the relationship that certain Tribes have with their land and heritage. For example, the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne in New York and Canada has reported their loss of language and culture as they have abandoned traditional activities due to concerns of pollution exposure. Toxic waste dumping in the Navajo and Hopi Nations had cases go to the UN and World Health Organization due to extreme concerns over pollution and toxic waste dumping going unchecked or sponsored by the government.

A recent case of environmental injustice in Native populations that gained media attention is the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s battle with the Dakota Access Pipeline that runs through their land and threatens their ancestral grounds. The battle led to several protests opposing construction of the pipeline in 2016 resulting in over 300 injuries and 400 arrests. The pipeline was still completed in 2017, and the Tribe has already faced the repercussions of oil spills on their land.

Moreover, the U.S. government still does not recognize several tribes across the country that end up being used for hazardous dump sites simply due to their unofficial status. Across a large population of Native Americans, researchers estimate that over 600,000 individuals in Western United States live within 10 kilometers of an abandoned mine, increasing their potential of being exposed to harmful pollutants.

Despite these grim facts, many Native American communities are actively fighting against environmental injustices that impact them. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is still battling the pipeline on a month-to-month basis and Native Americans across the nation continue to protest and fight for justice on their land.

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