PRAIRIE ISLAND -- In 1938 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Lock & Dam No. 3 on the Mississippi River. The structure maintains a channel at least nine feet deep so boats are able to navigate through. But Prairie Island Indian Community says construction of the lock resulted in flooding and permanent loss of land on the reservation.
Now, the Prairie Island Indian Community Land Claim Settlement Act is before Congress. If passed, it would add land to federal trust and compensate for what the tribe calls illegal flooding, according to a Prairie Island Indian Community news release.
U.S. Reps. Angie Craig (D) and Jim Hagedorn (R) introduced the bill Tuesday, Oct. 22. Rep. Betty McCollum (D) is a co-sponsor.
Prairie Island Indian Community recently purchased a portion of vacant land near Pine Island along Highway 52, formerly called Elk Run. The deal followed the March 2016 announcement by Prairie Island Indian Community of the purchase of 112 acres of land in West Lakeland Township, near Lake Elmo in Washington County.
The title for land in federal trust goes to the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, where it is held on behalf of Native American tribes. Tribes determine how to use the land under some federal restrictions, though it is typically not subject to state law.
In a new release, District 2's Craig wrote:
“I'm pleased to introduce bipartisan legislation that would allow the Prairie Island Indian Community to put additional land into trust as a settlement for land previously taken from them by the United States government. This community was forced onto their current land in 1889, and in the years since have had portions of that land taken away by the government without their consent to build a nuclear power plant and a lock and dam system along the Mississippi River. The combination of these projects has created unique risks for the community. Tribal members live approximately 600 yards from a nuclear power plant and much of the tribal lands have been deemed unusable due to flooding from the lock and dam system. Entry points onto and off the island are extremely limited. It's time that the U.S. government settles these claims and makes this right to ensure that the Prairie Island Indian Community can grow for generations to come.”
When members of the Minnesota House visited Prairie Island during their “mini-session” at the beginning of October, Tribal Council President Shelley Buck explained some of the community’s history and traditions during a bus tour around the reservation. During the tour, she mentioned that the reservation needed more land because they had expanded to the edges of their property that was not flooded.
According to the Minnesota Historical Society, the Prairie Island reservation, a total of 120 acres, was created in 1886. The Prairie Island website states that in 1934, 414 more acres were purchased for the reservation. After the creation of the lock, only 300 livable acres remained.
Prairie Island Nuclear Plant operated by Xcel Energy — as well as casks storing spent nuclear fuel — is 600 yards from the reservation.
The Land Claim Settlement bill includes language to address the nuclear hazards that those who live on the reservation have faced.
“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," Buck said in the news release. "This legislation addresses our health and safety concerns and offers us a safer future free from these dangerous threats.”
The bill states:
“There is only one improved and maintained road leading on and off of the island, and it is shared by the Prairie Island Reservation and the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant. The road crosses a busy rail corridor at grade and so can be and is often blocked by railroad traffic. As a result, the Tribe’s entire reservation is under constant threat of nuclear contamination and the means of escape is limited.”