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Nevada tribe appeals to the United Nations amid water contamination concerns

A tribal leader presents in an international conference
Screenshot UN Web TV
Tribal Chairman Brian Mason presents at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on April 18, 2023, in New York City.

A Nevada tribe received international attention at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues over water contamination concerns.

A decades-old water contamination issue in a remote Nevada town has drawn new attention.

The town of Owyhee sits under hydrocarbon plumes believed to be the cause of cancer-related death of more than 100 members of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.

Records show that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) owned a maintenance shop on the reservation where diesel and other oils were disposed of.

Over the years, contamination affected the local school's drinking water.

“Most of the reservation was not aware of this. That plume had been there since 1985,” said Tribal Chairman Brian Mason.

Mason said he became aware of the plume when they made a request to the BIA to build additional greenhouses next to the school.

“We were denied the land because they told us that there was a hydrocarbon plume there,” Mason said. “There are many cancer deaths that have resulted in this, we think, we don't know.”

On April 18, Mason presented his concerns to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Since December, Mason has met with the school district, state senators and members of the U.S. Congress in hopes of addressing the problem.

A new school is needed, Mason said.

A bill in the Nevada Legislature proposes one-time funding of more than $60 million to build a new school in a different location.

But Mason said he is unsure if the bill will survive since it is facing some opposition. So he brought the issue to the United Nations.

“The two major U.S. political parties in the state of Nevada are playing political football with the lives of our children, with their health and their safety as it stands,” Mason said.

The bill is expected to have its first hearing on April 27. Members of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe will travel to Carson City to once again push for a new school.

Maria joined KUNR Public Radio in December 2022 as a staff reporter. She is interested in stories about underserved communities, immigration, arts and culture, entertainment, education and health.