The negotiation of Native American identity: A narrative analysis of the controversy over the storing of nuclear waste on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation

Tracy Lee Clarke
Department of Communication, University of Utah
August, 2006


For over a decade conflict among members of a small, seemingly insignificant tribe 80 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah, has resulted in intratribal fights, lawsuits, a coup and a new regime, and threats of termination of membership for many tribal members. At the core of the conflict among members of the Skull Valley Goshute tribe over the storing of nuclear waste on their reservation are issues of political, cultural, and environmental identity. In the following chapters, guided by literature from various academic fields and Paul Ricoeur's theory of narrated identity, I conduct a content analysis of various narratives from tribal members regarding the storing of nuclear waste on their reservation. I conclude that both political and cultural identity are constructed, maintained, and negotiated through narratives about nuclear waste and are articulated in such a manner as to create a direct connection with the natural world. The environment becomes more than just a context for political and cultural conflict: it constitutes the conflict itself, and identity narratives become the means by which conflict about the nuclear waste gets constructed and reconstructed. Likewise, the environmental controversy becomes the conduit by which identity is allowed to evolve, change, and become modified through narrative creating a complex milieu for tribal policy development and decision making.