MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Land Grabbing Bill Returns to Senate to Threaten Sovereignty of Western Shoshone Nation

Published by MAC on 2003-08-06


Land Grabbing Bill Returns to Senate to Threaten Sovereignty of Western Shoshone Nation

6 Auguest 2003

From: Drillbits & Tailings, Project Underground, San Fransisco, Volume 8 number 5

The sovereignty of the Western Shoshone people is again threatened by the interests of the United States government in conjunction with extractive industries.

This July, Senator Reid of Nevada and Chairman Campbell of Colorado reintroduced the Western Shoshone Distribution Bill to the Senate. In an attempt to finalize a controversial process of land acquisition, the Bill, if passed, would force the distribution of US$26 million to the Western Shoshone people who have been fighting against this forced settlement for more than thirty years.

In 1979 the Claims Commission, a body created by the government to deal with the illegal acquisition of lands from Native Americans, ruled that the land claimed by the Western Shoshone belonged to the United States. The Commission said that the title had been transferred to the government through "gradual encroachment" on the land. As a result, US$26 million was awarded to the Western Shoshone -- about 15 cents an acre in real terms. The Secretary of the Interior accepted the payment on behalf of the Shoshone, but the Shoshone have consistently rejected its attempt to distribute the money and close the deal on the Shoshone land.

The fear of many Western Shoshone people is that once the money has been distributed the government will consider that the title to over 24 million acres of Western Shoshone land has been settled and is therefore federal property.

"Once the money is paid, it is very clear in my mind that the cloud over their claim is clear. They can then say to the world that they bought it," said Chief Raymond Yowell of the Western Shoshone National Traditional Council, in reference to the government.

Attempts to force settlements like this have been introduced and defeated in the past. They violate the Ruby Valley Treaty, signed in 1863, which recognized Western Shoshone territories throughout Nevada, as well as parts in Utah, California and Idaho. Despite the ratification of the Ruby Valley Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Peace and Friendship with the Western Shoshone, the United States has treated the land as public, inviting mineral development and withholding the benefits from the development from the owners of the land.

The US does so under the 1872 General Mining Law, which grants the right to mine western lands to anyone who discovers hard rock minerals. Under the law, minerals can be mined free of any royalties to the US government or the local indigenous people. The claim holder may also purchase the land for the disturbingly low price of US$2.50 to US$5.00 an acre.

Newmont Mining Company and Placer Dome stand to gain a great deal if the Western Shoshone Distribution Bill passes. Both mining giants are represented by McClure, Gerard and Neuenshwander Inc., a key lobbyist for the National Mining Association (and the employer of Senator Reid's son-in-law, Stephen Barringer).

Nevada currently produces approximately two thirds of the country's gold, but it is speculated that far more extensive extraction is possible. Placer Dome has stated that it expects their recent "discovery" in Crescent Valley will produce US$1bn. (The low-density population and desert make nuclear weapons testing and storage equally attractive to corporations).

Nevada Lands and Resources Co., Bechtel Corp., Kennecott Corp. and Barrick Mining Corp. also stand to gain handsomely from the federal acquisition of lands.

In what appears to be an attempt to run the Shoshone off of their land, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), acting under the Department of the Interior, has recently performed several armed raids on Shoshone land. Using helicopters and hired cowboys, the BLM has seized livestock from Western Shoshone individuals for their refusal to pay grazing taxes on what they regard as sovereign tribal land. This February one such raid was performed while mares were pregnant, causing several to abort and still others to die from the trauma of the event.

The Western Shoshone have long defended their close links with the land. The mountains, plants, animals and waters all have purposes and stories that are fundamental aspects of Western Shoshone identity.

"It's just crazy what's going on here. Who has the right to steal a person's horses and cows and to try to force people off lands that their grandmother's mother's mother cared for and raised her children on. Remove us from these lands and we will die a slow, painful spiritual death," stated Western Shoshone woman Carrie Dann "Our people never agreed to sell or leave these lands…even if money distribution happens, the United States needs to understand that we have not sold our lands. A forced payment of approximately 15 cents an acre cannot bind us. We cannot leave this land. This is our home."

SOURCES: "Digging Holes in the Spirit: Gold mining and the Survival of the Western Shoshone Nation," Project Underground, the Indigenous Mining Campaign and the Western Shoshone Defense Project, June 1999; "For the Western Shoshone theft is theft, even when by Congress," Indian Country Today, June 27, 2003; "Despite Heavy Controversy, Congress Pushes Western Shoshone Land Fraud Bill," Western Shoshone Defense Project, Utah Independent Media Center, July 16, 2003; "Range War in Nevada Pits U.S. Against Two Shoshone Sisters," Charlie LeDuff, New York Times, October 31, 2002; "Tribal News: Conspiracy Theory or Synchronized Thievery?," Deirdre Pike, Reno News and Review, July 3, 2003; International Indian Treaty Council Action Alert, July 2003.

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