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The Skull Valley Goshutes and the Nuclear Storage...

Time Frame

2 class periods of 90 minutes each


Utah LessonPlans


The student will be able to comprehend how tribal sovereignty is complicated by disagreements over land use, economic development, and state vs. federal control. They will also understand the economic and ecological variables that have shaped the Skull Valley Band of Goshute's attempted acquisition of a nuclear waste storage facility.


Teacher Materials

Student Materials

  • Debate: Should the Goshutes Build a Temporary Nuclear Waste Storage Site on the Skull Valley Reservation?

    YES: Forrest Cuch (pdf)
    NO: Margene Bullcreek (pdf)

Background for Teachers

The Skull Valley Band of Goshute Reservation, located approximately forty-five miles southwest of Salt Lake City, was established by executive order in 1912 and covers 17,248 acres. With limited land holdings in a sparse, secluded landscape, the Skull Valley Band has struggled to develop a viable economic base. In the 1990s, the nation's executive council undertook efforts to locate a temporary nuclear waste storage site on the reservation. The history of this controversial issue highlights the Goshutes' struggle for sovereignty, economic independence, and environmental security.

Instructional Procedures

Using information from At a Glance: Goshute Sovereignty and the Contested West Desert and clips from We Shall Remain: The Goshute, teach your students about the controversy over nuclear waste storage on the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Reservation. Emphasize the way these issues are related to tribal sovereignty and economic stability.

Split your students into debate teams and assign each team a position either for or against temporary nuclear waste storage on the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Reservation. Provide each "debate team" with a starter oral history excerpt and have them search for at least three additional credible sources of their own. Remind them to keep the focus of their arguments on sovereignty.

Have students debate their topics and judge as is appropriate for your classroom.


  • Rather than having in-class debates, ask students to do a research paper on the issue of Goshute nuclear waste storage. Make sure they articulate the arguments on both sides of the issue and tie their arguments to the issue of tribal sovereignty.
  • Have students research other issues related to Goshute tribal sovereignty, such as the Southern Nevada Water Authority's plan to pump water from the Snake Valley Aquifer (part of which underlies the Goshute Reservation) to Las Vegas. Have them report their findings either in-class or in a research paper.

Assessment Plan

  • Debate resources chosen
  • Debate participation

End of Unit Assessment


Clarke, Tracylee. "An Ideographic Analysis of Native American Sovereignty in the State of Utah: Enabling Denotative Dissonance and Constructing Irreconcilable Conflict." Wicazo Sa Review 17, no. 1 (2002): 43--63.

Defa, Dennis R. "The Goshute Indians of Utah." In A History of Utah's American Indians. Ed. Forrest S. Cuch. Salt Lake City: Utah Division of Indian Affairs and the Utah Division of State History, 2000.

Fahys, Judy. "Family Feud: Goshutes Split over Nuclear Waste Site." Salt Lake Tribune, Aug. 18, 2002.

Fahys, Judy. "Goshute Says Fed, State Let the Tribe Down." Salt Lake Tribune, Sept. 14, 2006.

Fahys, Judy. "Miffed Backers of Goshute Nuclear Storage Sue Interior Department." Salt Lake Tribune, July 17, 2007, p. 1.

Gowda, M. V. R., and D. Easterling. "Voluntary Siting and Equity: The MRS Facility Experience in Native America." Risk Analysis 20, no. 6 (2000): 917--29.

Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah & Families against Incinerator Risk. "Report from the Nuclear Free Great Basin Gathering." The Smokeout, fall 2001.

Ishiyama, Norihiko. "Environmental Justice and American Indian Tribal Sovereignty: Case Study of a Land Use Conflict in Skull Valley, Utah." Antipode, 35 (2003): 119--39.

Johnson, Kirk. "A Tribe, Nimble and Determined, Moves Ahead with Nuclear Storage Plan." New York Times, Feb. 28, 2005, p. A15.

KUED-TV. Skull Valley: Radioactive Waste and the American West.

LaDuke, Winona. All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life. Boston: South End Press, 1999.

Lewis, David Rich. "Skull Valley Goshutes and the Politics of Nuclear Waste." In Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian. Ed. M. E. Harkin and David Rich Lewis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007.

Nuclear Information and Resource Service. Pamphlet. Environmental Racism, Tribal Sovereignty, and Nuclear Waste: High-level atomic waste dump targeted at Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation in Utah. n.d.

Pevar, Stephen L. The Rights of Indians and Tribes. 2d ed. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992.

Public Citizen, Ohngo Guadedah Devia Awareness & Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "Beware of 'Private Fuel Storage': New Report Criticizes Industry Plan for Nuclear Waste." Press release. July 26, 2001.

Spangler, Jerry D. & Bob Bernick Jr. "NRC Ruling Won't End Fight over Nuclear Waste." Deseret Morning News. Sept. 10, 2005.

State News Service. "Utah Delegation Urges Interior to Block Skull Valley Site." Sept. 9, 2005.

Stolz, Martin & Mathew J, Wald. "Interior Department Rejects Interim Plan for Nuclear Waste." New York Times, Sept. 9, 2006, p. A9.

Utah Division of Indian Affairs. "Goshute Tribe." 

Utah Division of Indian Affairs. "How Tribes Get Their Sovereignty."

Wilkinson, C. F. Indian Tribes as Sovereign Governments: A Sourcebook on Federal-Tribal History, Law, and Policy. Oakland, Calif.: American Indian Resources Institute, 1991.


The University of Utah's American West Center (AWC) produced the curriculum materials in consultation with the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, Utah State Office of Education, KUED 7, and the Goshute, Northwestern Band of the Shoshone, Southern Paiute, and Ute nations.

Created: 01/17/2011
Updated: 02/04/2018