weather icon Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

‘Out of sight, out of mind’: Tribe’s effort to build new school runs into pushback

Updated April 4, 2023 - 10:34 am

The efforts of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation to build a new school are underway in the Legislature, though they are receiving some pushback, said Chairman Brian Mason.

The Owyhee Combined School, located on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation on the Nevada-Idaho border, was built in the 1950s adjacent to a hydrocarbon plume, and tribal leaders believe it is the cause of more than 100 of its members getting cancer over the years.

After raising awareness for the need for state action, the tribe got two legislators in its district — state Sen. Ira Hansen and his spouse, Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen, R-Sparks — to sponsor legislation that would allocate one-time funding of $77 million for a new school.

Assembly Bill 273, if passed, would appropriate funds to the Elko County School District for the construction of the new Owyhee Combined School. It is unclear where the funds would come from, as the appropriation is not included in the executive budget. Neither Hansen returned requests for comment. The bill is still being drafted, and a meeting has not yet been scheduled in the Legislature to discuss it.

Mason said so far the legislation is receiving pushback from state legislators representing Las Vegas who think it should be the responsibility of Elko County School District, which leases the tribe’s property to run the school.

“They don’t seem to think that we’re deserving of a school because we don’t pay into the taxbase,” Mason said.

He hopes to explain to legislators how treaties work, and the tribe’s history with the federal and state government. The treaties that the tribe has are with the federal government and the state of Nevada, not Elko County, Mason said.

The Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation historically have lived in the tri-state area of Idaho, Nevada and Oregon, long before the country was founded. The federal government signed various treaties with different tribes in the area that were then put on one reservation.

Related: Tribe fights cancer cluster in Nevada town: ‘We have to get a new school’

“We’re up here on no fault of our own,” Mason said. “So we just got to convince them that this is the right thing to do. And it’s been a challenge, to say the least. But, you know, we’ll keep going.”

The tribe met with the Bureau of Indian Affairs last week, Mason said, and is working to put together a budget for the Bureau of Indian Affairs on how much it will cost to assess the environmental hazard in Owyhee and a health assessment on what the health impacts have been on tribal members.

Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., who is the representative of Northern Nevada, said he is working with Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen in holding the Bureau of Indian Affairs accountable. Amodei is meeting with the director of the bureau and Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on April 18 to discuss this issue.

A few different entities are at play in solving this problem, Amodei said: the Elko County School District that runs the K-12 school on an Indian reservation, the Nevada Legislature, and the federal government, which has to hold the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ “feet to the fire.”

“This is not a partisan thing,” Amodei said. “Of course we’ll work collaboratively as a delegation, as we’ve done on other stuff in the past. I expect to have a united front with Catherine and Jacky in terms of getting the BIA to do the right thing.”

On April 16, Mason is also heading to the United Nations to speak about the school, hoping it will gain more national attention. Making more people aware of the new school can only help, he said. With the reservation located in a remote area of Northern Nevada, the tribe is often “out of sight, out of mind,” Mason said.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.