Skull Valley Indian Reservation

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For the Utah valley location of the Reservation, see Skull Valley (Utah). For the small town in Arizona, see Skull Valley, Arizona.
Skull Valley Band of
Goshute Indians of Utah
Total population
(134 enrolled members,
15-20 living on reservation[1])
Regions with significant populations
 United States( Utah)
Shoshoni language, English
Native American Church, Mormonism,[2]
Related ethnic groups
other Western Shoshone peoples, Ute people

The Skull Valley Indian Reservation is located approximately 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. It is inhabited by the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians of Utah, a federally recognized tribe. The population includes approximately 31 people in 7 households and is characterized by a high incidence of poverty[needs source]. There is a long history of exploitation of the Skull Valley Indian Reservation by large polluting industries in the area including a U.S. Military owned VX nerve agent storage facility, which was responsible for the mass killing of thousands of sheep in the Dugway Sheep Incident of 1968. The Magnesium Corporation has also been linked to numerous, severe environmental issues in the area which may have a large effect on the health of the reservations' inhabitants. There has also been an ongoing controversy regarding a proposed site for the storage of spent nuclear rods by a private firm called Private Fuel Storage. Given the areas position, with low economic leverage (in part due to the infeasibility of range management due to the large scale contamination of sheep carcasses), large industries have used monetary incentives in order to maintain environmentally damaging practices in the area immediately surrounding the reservation.


The reservation comprises 28.187 square miles (73.004 km²) of land in east central Tooele County, adjacent to the southwest side of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest in the Stansbury Mountains. The reservation lies in the south of Skull Valley, with another range, the Cedar Mountains bordering west. A population of 31 persons resided on its territory as of the 2000 census. It is the site of a proposed temporary storage facility for used nuclear fuel (sometimes also referred to as radioactive waste), causing much controversy among some Goshute Native Americans, some of Utah's government officials and many local advocacy groups. The facility was licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management refused to give the permission needed for the facility to operate.

Tribal government[edit]

The tribe's headquarters is in Tooele, Utah 1198 North Main Street Tooele, Utah 84074 Mailing Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians P.O. BOX 448 Grantsville, Utah 84029

Tribal Executive Committee Chairwoman Candace Bear Vice Chairman Wade Moon Secretary Annette Bear

Tribal membership is 134, with 15 to 20 living on the reservation. The tribal police have jurisdiction on the reservation.[1]


On October 12, 1863, the band first signed a treaty with the US federal government. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed an executive order established the reservation.[1]

During the Dugway Sheep Incident on April 12, 1968, 6,000 sheep in Skull Valley were killed by VX gas released in a test from the nearby U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground.[3] Dugway and Skull Valley have also been featured in Rage, The Andromeda Strain, Outbreak and Species.

The Dugway Proving Grounds lies just south of Skull Valley. To the east is a nerve gas storage facility and to the north is the Magnesium Corporation plant which has had severe environmental problems. The reservation was a proposed location for an 820-acre (3 km²) dry cask storage facility for the storage of 40,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel. Only 120 acres (0.49 km2) are for the actual facility, and the rest of the land is a buffer area. Eight and a half years after application, this facility was licensed by the NRC.[when?]

Environmental Justice Concerns[edit]

Role of VX Nerve Agent Storage and Testing[edit]

There is a long history involving the testing of the VX Nerve Agent by the United States Army in the area immediately surrounding the Skull Valley Indian Reservation. The most notable event in this history is the Dugway sheep incident, in which 6,000 sheep died after being exposed to the deadly VX agent which was being tested at the Army's nearby Dugway Proving Ground. The Army has never admitted fault in this incident, though a 1970 report by researchers from the Edgewood Arsenal, indicates that the evidence of nerve gas was incontrovertible. The VX agent is strong enough to kill a person with exposure to even a single drop. Due to the presence of thousands of sheep carcasses contaminated with the toxic agent, residents of the reservation have been unable to maintain stock on the land since. This has undoubtedly affected the economy of the reservation.

Ray Peck, a resident of the reservation, and his family began to suffer from symptoms of exposure to the toxic chemical soon after the incident. This included terrible headaches, numbness, burning and an unusually high number of miscarriages.[4] Additionally, many of the elders members of the tribe died very shortly after the incident, though the deaths have never been proven to be a result of the VX agent.[4] The US government offered 1 million dollars in compensation to those ranchers who lost their sheep in the incident.[4]

Economic Manipulation of Skull Valley Goshute Tribe[edit]

It is a common move by the Federal government to target low-income indigenous communities when try to dump waste and conduct biochemical and nuclear testing.[5] The Skull Valley Tribe was not spared when the toxic nuclear waste and illegal dumping poisoned the land and left the Tribe without resources and therefore an economy entirely dependent on hosting toxic waste.

This economic manipulation has history based in the federal government's power to push through initiatives targeting minority communities and also is in the nuclear waste industry's money.

Congress created the Office of Nuclear Waste Negotiator in order to facilitate land deals between indigenous communities. The Negotiator sent out letters with offers up to millions of dollars to every federally recognized tribe in the country, before narrowing down candidates.[6] Despite the scores of resistance from tribal members, indigenous communities often suffer economic depression as reservations have had some of the lowest rates of employment, income and educational attainment[7] in the country. This often results in a large incentive to accept the Negotiator's deals, such as the one from Private Fuel Storage (PFS) and nuclear waste disposal corporations.

However, toxic waste dumping has ruined reservation land through pollution and land degradation, resulting in the loss of the ability to produce fresh food or other economic goods from the land. This has resulted in a cycle of poverty that relies on nuclear waste dumping to survive.

The Skull Valley Goshute Tribue has also experienced problems with nuclear waste disposal. Left with few choices, the Tribal Chairman Leon Bear signed a contract with PFS for upwards of $200 million in exchange for allowing toxic waste dumping on reservation land. However, he did not inform anyone on the Tribal Council he was doing so and the exact value of the deal is still unknown.

Legal means have not worked out, as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) sent a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) stating that the dump does not indicate environmental injustice since the PFS has compensated the tribe.[8]  

Indigenous Resistance Against Federal Government[edit]

Controversy Surrounding Proposed Nuclear Waste Storage Facility[edit]

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People[edit]

Since 1997, the Goshute people have witnessed several violations of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration, originally drafted in September, 2007,[9] outlines the provisions which the global community as well as individual states must adhere to with regard to the sovereignty and privileges of indigenous communities. As a permanent member of the UN (United Nations Security Council), the United States is expected to respect the rights laid out by the Declaration. Additionally, President Barack Obama spoke in support of the Declaration in December, 2010, offering the U.S.'s allegiance to it.[10]

However, actual adherence to the Declaration's principles has been lackluster, dating back to 1997, a decade before it was drafted. For instance, Article 24 of the Declaration clearly states that indigenous peoples have the right to proper physical and mental health, and that the government under which they live ought to promote this right.[11] The resumed discussion in 2012 regarding the creation of a nuclear waste storage facility is a clear violation of this Article. The health effects from the proposed toxic waste facility pose disastrous consequences for the residents (e.g., Goshute Indians) within its immediate proximity. Although the facility has been proposed by an independent coalition of energy companies, Private Fuel Storage, LLC (PFS),[12] the state of Utah and the federal government have yet to intervene on behalf of the Goshute peoples.

In close relation to Article 24 is Article 29, which makes clear indigenous peoples' right to advocate for their health and for their government to support said advocacy[13] According to Article 29, indigenous peoples are to have full sovereignty over their given lands (e.g., reservations), and may dictate how best to utilize that land in a way that most benefits their communities.[14] Since 1997, when the disposal of nuclear and other toxic wastes began in Skull Valley[12] many of its residents have protested the presence of the facilities via picketing and editorial pieces in local newspapers. Despite this vocal and unfavorable response by the Goshute people to the facilities, PFS continues to petition for access to the reservation, with no intervention from the state.[12]

Nuclear Waste Policy Act (1982)[edit]

United States law passed in 1982 that created a permanent nationwide disposal program for dangerous radioactive waste. This policy was much needed because the United States had no regulation over the disposal of nuclear waste, a big problem due to the longevity of radioactive material. Nuclear waste is known to stay radioactive and to has a half-life of more than one million years and was simply being stored around the company.

Potential Health Risks[edit]

An upwards amount of 90% of all Uranium mining in the United States takes place near or on the lands of Native Americans. In general, women living near Uranium mine dumps are at a much greater risk for birth defects amongst many other health issues.[15]

With the exception of the west side of the land, the areas surrounding the reservation have had a long history of being used for external purposes, including: a hazardous waste landfill,[15][16] a nerve gas storage facility that treats some of the most hazardous man-made chemicals,[16] two incinerators for hazardous waste,[15] and a magnesium plant that contributes significant amounts of chlorine gas air pollution.[15][16][17] Also, airborne toxic chemicals are released from the nearby Intermountain Power Project.[17] The U.S. government has tested biological weapons adjacent to Skull Valley.[16] Additionally, a science center called Dugway Proving Ground experiments with viruses only 14 miles away from the reservation lands; since the materials produced at this military experimental center are not easily known, the future health of the people cannot be determined. In general, there is an added concern because children make up more than 30% of the tribe.[17]

Local peoples deal first-hand with the health consequences of nuclear experiments, and these local populations are often in remote areas, including in the proximity of indigenous reservations. Some opposing groups, including one named "Ohngo Gaudadeh Devia" (OGD), disapprove of the various highly toxic chemicals on their reservation because they see their land as Mother Nature. Even though the nuclear industry's agents have extended reassurance, the tribe is concerned about potential health repercussions from the storage and transportation of toxins, particularly for future generations.[17]

Ulrich Beck, a sociologist from Germany, coined the present "risk society", where the accumulation of toxic products, particularly industrial waste, create greater threats to human health. Human health risks are not evenly dispersed, and Beck stated that risk distribution is tied to capitalistic development. Beck also said that health risks can be seen as information, and just as information can change in amount and form, and can be defined in several different ways, so too can health risks.[17]

However, not everyone agrees that there are health risks. The DEIS says that leakage from casks is highly unlikely and that shipping nuclear waste cargo is no more dangerous than shipping any other cargo. Additionally, according to the DEIS, the Goshute people of Skull Valley will not be affected disproportionally by the cask container storage facility. However, OGD believes that with so many toxic facilities near Skull Valley, one must consider the cumulative impacts that could potentially affect the Goshute people.[16]

Corporations and various government levels have provided economic development in the form of these nuclear waste sites, incinerators, and other toxic landfills; the 40,000 tons of nuclear fuel being stored there provides income in the scale of hundreds of millions.[17]

The Skull Valley Goshute Tribe website stated that the surrounding toxic facilities is safe, politically and scientifically adequate, and legal.[17]

Trump's EPA Policies[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Skull Valley Band Goshute Tribal Profile." Utah Division of Indian Affairs. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  2. ^ Pritzker 242
  3. ^ "Feds finally admit that nerve agent was found near 1968 sheep kill". Salt Lake Tribune. 1998. Retrieved 2007-12-07. 
  4. ^ a b c Andrew Kincaid (2014-02-01). "Death on the WInd: The Dugway Sheep Incident". Oddly Historical. Retrieved 2017-03-10. 
  5. ^ "Radioactive Racism" (PDF). March 17, 2017. Archived from the original (PDF) on |archive-url= requires |archive-date= (help). 
  6. ^ "Environmental Racism, Tribal Sovereignty and Nuclear Waste - NIRS". NIRS. 2001-02-15. Retrieved 2017-03-18. 
  7. ^ "Reservation poverty". Wikipedia. 2017-02-25. 
  8. ^ Gilbert, Cathleen (September 13, 2000). "Draft Environmental Impact Statement dated June 2000" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on |archive-url= requires |archive-date= (help). Retrieved March 17, 2017. 
  9. ^ "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" (PDF). United Nations. United Nations. Retrieved 3/3/2017.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  10. ^ Richardson, Valerie. "Obama Adopts U.N. Manifest on Rights of Indigenous Peoples". Washington Times. Washington Times. Retrieved 3/2/2017.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  11. ^ "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" (PDF). United Nations. United Nations. Retrieved 3/3/2017.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  12. ^ a b c "Radioactive Waste on Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation". Environmental Justice Atlas. Environmental Justice Atlas. Retrieved 3/3/2017.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  13. ^ "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" (PDF). United Nations. United Nations. Retrieved 3/3/2017.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  14. ^ "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" (PDF). United Nations. United Nations. Retrieved 3/3/2017.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  15. ^ a b c d Endres, Danielle (15 October 2009). "From wasteland to waste site: the role of discourse in nuclear power's environmental injustices". Local Environment. 14 (10): 917–937. doi:10.1080/13549830903244409. 
  16. ^ a b c d e Hoffman, Steven (1 December 2001). "Negotiating Eternity: Energy Policy, Environmental Justice, and the Politics of Nuclear Waste". Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society. 21 (6): 456–472. doi:10.1177/027046760102100604. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f g Hanson, Randel (November 2001). "An Experiment in (Toxic) Indian Capitalism?: The Skull Valley Goshutes, New Capitalism, and Nuclear Waste". PoLAR. 24 (2): 25–38. doi:10.1525/pol.2001.24.2.25. 


  • Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°24′N 112°43′W / 40.400°N 112.717°W / 40.400; -112.717