PRAIRIE ISLAND, Minn. (October 22, 2019)—The Prairie Island Indian Community thanks U.S. Reps. Angie Craig and Jim Hagedorn for their leadership in authoring and introducing, and Rep. Betty McCollum for co-sponsoring, bipartisan legislation finally addressing a series of federal government actions that have exposed the Tribe to nuclear hazards and flooding, imposing long-term damage to the Tribe’s reservation and its people.

The Prairie Island Indian Community Land Claim Settlement Act will add land to the Tribe’s reservation at a safe distance from the immediately adjacent nuclear power plant and radioactive waste storage site that threatens the Tribe’s existing reservation lands. It will also compensate the Tribe for the illegal flooding of its lands as a result of a federally-licensed dam, and alleviate the hazard associated with the limited access on and off the island where the Tribe is located.

“This bill is an overdue effort to right the federal government’s past wrongs against our people, and we are deeply grateful to Representatives Craig, Hagedorn and McCollum for supporting us,” said Tribal Council President Shelley Buck. “We have been trying for years to solve the issues that are the direct result of federal actions: the flooding of our lands and the storage of hazardous nuclear waste next to our homes. This legislation addresses our health and safety concerns and offers us a safer future free from these dangerous threats.”

The new reservation land, located near Pine Island, Minnesota, lies well within the Tribe’s historic aboriginal territory. It was purchased by the Tribe at no cost to taxpayers. Adding the land to the Tribe’s reservation is widely supported by nearby communities and local government leaders. It is also supported by the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council.

According to the Tribal Council, much of the new land will be used to build housing. Because of the limited amount of useable property on the existing reservation, President Buck said about 120 of the Tribe’s 1,047 members are on a waiting list for housing for their families.

Buck said the new acreage gives the Tribe an opportunity to attract members who want to return to their ancestral lands. Placing the land into federal trust allows the Tribe to access federal government programs while maintaining its right to govern the land as its own civil jurisdiction.

Buck said the new land also will allow the Tribe to diversify its economic portfolio.

The damage to the Tribe’s reservation began in 1938, when the US Army Corps of Engineers constructed Lock No. 3 on the Mississippi River, causing the permanent loss and perennial flooding of land on the Tribe’s reservation. Compounding this problem, the federal government later licensed the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant on land adjacent to the Tribe’s reservation, which now houses more than 1,000 tons of radioactive waste in above-ground casks, some 600 yards from tribal housing. No other nuclear power plant in the United States sits so close to homes as the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant.

Adding to the hazard is the lack of egress to the reservation: At current, there is only one reliable road on and off the island, and this road is blocked multiple times throughout the day by freight trains.

“For the health and well-being of our Tribe, and the future of our Tribe, we need land elsewhere,” Buck said. “And we are grateful for the warm reception and support we have received from our neighboring communities.”

The Tribe thanks nearby communities and businesses that support the Tribe’s efforts, including the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council; the cities of Rochester, Pine Island, and Oronoco; Goodhue and Olmstead Counties; New Haven Township; State Representative Barb Haley; State Senators Dave Senjem and Michael Goggin and Xcel Energy, which owns the Prairie Island nuclear plant.

About the Prairie Island Indian Community

The Prairie Island Indian Community, a federally recognized Indian Nation, is located in southeastern Minnesota along the banks of the Mississippi River, approximately 30 miles from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Twin nuclear reactors and 44 large steel nuclear waste storage casks sit just 600 yards from Prairie Island tribal homes. A total of 98 casks could be stranded on Prairie Island indefinitely unless the federal government fulfills its commitment to create a permanent storage solution. The only evacuation route off the Prairie Island is frequently blocked by passing trains. The Tribe has been pushing for the removal of the nuclear waste since 1994 when the federal government first licensed the storage for nuclear waste next door to its reservation.