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Nuclear issues top the new Prairie Island Tribal Council's priority list

Prairie Island tribal leaders pledged Monday to keep their focus on nuclear waste management.

Newly elected Tribal Council members said after being sworn-in that the fight over dry cask storage at the nearby Prairie Island nuclear plant would continue over the next two years.

"Our community faces significant challenges in the coming years and we need to band together to make sure the tribe's interests are well represented," said Tribal Council President Victoria Winfrey. "Our continued battle to get nuclear waste removed from Prairie Island and to preserve our community's culture and heritage will be our top priority."

Winfrey and four other community members - including Tribal Council newcomer Edward Buck - were officially sworn in at a ceremony Monday. They were elected last month.

As is custom, the group took time privately - less than 10 minutes - to discuss what position each would hold on the council.

Here is what they decided:

President - Winfrey (incumbent)

Vice president - Alan Childs II

Secretary - Buck

Treasurer - Johnny Johnson (incumbent)

Assistant secretary/treasurer - Ronald Johnson (incumbent)

"We all play important roles in this community," said Winfrey, who is serving her fifth consecutive term on the council. "I am proud to lead this community and help this community prosper."

Tribal Council members for years have demanded state and federal officials move nuclear waste to a safer, more remote location like Yucca Mountain, Nev., a proposed national waste repository.

The project's future turned bleak this year after President Barack Obama cut its funding.

Prairie Island leaders argue Yucca Mountain remains the best option and still oppose Xcel's plans - which were approved last month by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission - to increase electrical generating capacity and dry cask storage at the plant.

Federal officials are still considering whether the plant should be relicensed for another 20 years.

Nuclear issues will not be the only battle council members face during their two-year term. Members said Monday things will be difficult on the economic front as well.

"There are no illusions that over the next two years tough decisions lie ahead," Alan Childs II said. "But as we do the right thing, it will come out the right way."

Winfrey said ensuring the continued success and efficient operations at Treasure Island Resort & Casino, Dakota Station and Mount Frontenac Golf Course are key to the tribe's success.

Childs said including more community members in the decision-making process will also be important.

"The one thing that hasn't changed is that as a Tribal Council our decisions affect everyone in the community," Childs said.

Buck agreed.

"Hopefully as a group we will make the best decisions for the tribe," Buck said. "Hopefully we can continue to grow and move forward."