TULSA, Okla. – Five Native American tribes in the possession of an Oklahoma site where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security intends to conduct bioterrorism drills next year now oppose the government’s plan, says the agency does not inform them it was the release of “potentially hazardous substances” on the grounds, where more than 100 children are buried.
The Oklahoma-based Council of Confederated Chilocco Tribes, consists of five tribes that collectively have what is left of the former Chilocco Indian Agricultural School outside of Newkirk, where the test would be carried out. The Chilocco school, which operated from the late 1800s to 1980, was one of several federal government run boarding schools where the U.S. once sought to assimilate Native American children.
“Often when a child died at the school, the family had no money to have the body at home, so they were buried at the school cemetery,” said Heather Payne, a spokeswoman for the Otoe-Missouria Tribe.
Many of the graves are unmarked, she said. The site, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Tulsa, near Oklahoma’s border with Kansas, also in the National Register of Historic Places.
Homeland Security is leasing the site to perform the exercises that it says will help determine how governments can best clean up after a bioterror attack, and how many chemical substances can penetrate into buildings. But the tribal council issued a statement in the past week, opponents of the test.
The other tribes that are part of the council, the Kaw Nation, Pawnee Nation, Ponca Tribe and Tonkawa Tribe.
Homeland Security spokesman John Verrico declined to comment until the agency terminates the review of the more than 300 comments it has received on the project design.
The government has announced plans for the bioterror drill in a legal notice last month in Newkirk the weekly newspaper. Many residents found out about the plans after the editor of the Newkirk Herald Journal decided the notice buried in his 900-circulation paper was front-page news.
Approximately 9,000 people from the farming town and the surrounding communities, including Arkansas City, Kansas, across the Oklahoma border, signed a petition looking for more information from Homeland Security. Dozens of shows from community meetings, demanding answers.
Scientists say that the cluster of buildings in the Newkirk, this site is the closest to single-family dwellings and commercial buildings in an AMERICAN city.
Homeland Security, says the chemical substances that it wants to use are found in household products such as sunscreen, cosmetics and detergents. A chemical substance that is the cause of most of the concerns, particularly among the many farmers who live nearby, is called DiPel, a biological insecticide that is commercially available since the 1970s and approved for use in organic agriculture. The Homeland Security project manager, has said that the chemicals do not pose harm to humans, animals or the hundreds of acres in the area of arable land and pasture.
But the tribal group, and some residents are not convinced.
“We stand united in opposition to the use of Chilocco for the testing of potentially dangerous substances,” John Shotton, a spokesman for the tribal council, said in a statement. “Many of our tribal members went to school here. Indian children are buried here.”
Newkirk resident Brian Hobbs, a 40-year-old construction worker who’s helped with the organising of opposition to the testing, said the five tribes’ opposition can make all the difference in the extent to which the government goes through with the test, or cancelling the plans.
“It doesn’t matter how many signatures we had, they have come here and are unified like that, it must be pretty serious and serious get all five on the same page,” Hobbs said Friday.
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