As class lead council, Indian and Environmental (IAE) aided the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma to a 10.5 million dollar settlement against Taiwanese Continental Carbon Company for the pollution of Ponca’s homeland. Kalyn Free and Jason Aamodt of IAE, as co-counsel for the tribe, personally took more than 150 depositions from a client base of about 2000 tribal members, a significant undertaking as most of the tribe had neither computers or consistent phone service. The award was a part of a series of contamination reparations totaling about twenty million dollars.
Ponca’s case surfaced when Continental’s production of carbon black, ‘used to reenforce vehicle tires and rubber hoses,’ left Ponca’s air and land filled with black soot residue, an emission byproduct.
IAE traced the soot to Continental using an air dispersion model, a series of equations and computer programs that map out atmospheric movement. This was the first class certified in Oklahoma based on this model.
As trial preparations grew over four years, IAE persisted to a settlement as they realized the urgency in some of Ponca’s elderly seeing justice before passing on. Free and Aamodt spent most of these years on location with The Ponca Tribe overcome their technological communication barriers in depositions.
Speaking of the Ponca situation, Free says “...no longer do we have to be the dumping ground for corporate America… when the federal and state governments turn a blind eye and refuse to regulate and prosecute polluters, then the tribes need to step up, unholster their guns, and go to court. But, tribes need experienced lawyers who are creative and determined to seek justice for Indian Country. And, they need to know that if they are a cash-poor tribe, that there are entities and other tribes out there who are willing to lend a helping hand.”
To help lessen the case burden, IAE avoided administration fees by administering in house pro bono. The Ponca Tribe also found support in a grant from the Lannan Foundation for expert witness testimony.
More from Lannan, who originally covered this story: https://lannan.org/indigenous-communities/ponca-tribe-oklahoma-launches-legal-case-against-the-continental-carbon-com