23. Bureau of Land Management Charged With Human Rights Violations Against the Shoshone Nation

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Source: NEWS FROM INDIAN COUNTRY: THE NATION’S NATIVE JOURNAL, Title: “BLM fines Western Shoshone $564,000 Despite OAS Request,” Date: May 1998, Vol. 12, No. 9, Author: Pat Calliotte

SSU Censored Researchers: Amy Loucks and Corrie Robb
SSU Evaluator: Kathleen Kesterke

Mainstream media coverage:

The Salt Lake Tribune, April 29, 1998, page A12
Dallas Morning News, May 11, 1997, page Al

A decades-old dispute with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has led the Western Shoshone tribe to take the conflict to an international level. What the BLM is calling a grazing issue, the Western Shoshone, a 10,000 member tribe, is calling a systematic and historical discrimination against American Indians. In early April 1998, the BLM fined a Shoshone family who have for decades been tending livestock on their ancestral land. The BLM not only issued an order to the Shoshone to remove the livestock from “public land,” but also levied fines totaling $564,000 against the Western Shoshone National Council (WSNC) and Mary and Carrie Dann, two sisters of the Shoshone tribe. The Shoshone consider this action to be a denial of their sovereignty and an attempt to interfere with their livelihood. After unsuccessful attempts to negotiate with the BLM and the Department of the Interior, and despite an unfavorable Supreme Court ruling, the Darns have sought the help of an international agency, the Organization of American States (OAS), charging human rights violations. The OAS’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has asked the United States to “stay” all actions pending further investigations; but, according to News From Indian Country (NFIC), the BLM has “not responded” to documents supporting Western Shoshone land rights.

Although a reservation was never created, in 1863, the Western Shoshone signed a pact with the U.S. government to receive food, clothing, and land, in exchange for stopping wagon train raids. A dozen Shoshone warriors signed with “x’s” on the pact, dubbed the “Treaty of Peace and Friendship at Ruby Valley.” Though in 1979 the Indian Claims Commission ordered the United States to pay the Shoshone $26 million for the land, the money has never been distributed to tribal members and is still, according to The Salt Lake Tribune,—held “in trust.”

Also in that ruling, the Dallas Morning News reports, the title was deemed to have been “lost to white encroachment.’ Although the Shoshone have never accepted payment for the land, in 1985 the Supreme Court upheld that the title of the land had “passed to the federal government,” according to The Tribune. In that article, the Danns say that the ruling was about whether there was payment, not about whether the Shoshone title is “intact.”

While the BLM claims that issues of overgrazing are the main reason for their fines and attempts to remove livestock and other equipment, the Dallas News reports that the millions of acres of desolate ranchland is “on the edge of one of the largest gold rushes in recent years, with mining companies scrambling to find gold.”

The mining companies are also paying meager penalties for environmental damage, says News From Indian Country. The Shoshone assert that the fines aimed at them are unfair compared to the meager penalties imposed upon mining companies for environmental damage on the same land. In 1992, Cortez Gold, which operates in the Crescent Valley near the Dann’s land, was initially charged $4,000 for violating their water pollution control permit. According to NFIC, Cortez later struck a deal with the BLM which waived their fine in return for an agreement to build a cattle guard and maintain a fence. In fact, this practice is not unusual and mining companies are rarely, if ever, punished in the first place.

The Western Shoshone do not enjoy the same treatment. The BLM has been unrelenting in their policy enforcement. It has not responded to documents supporting the Shoshone’s ancestral claim of the land and has refused repeated requests by WSNC to negotiate. According to the BLM, the $494,000 fine against the WSNC and the $70,000 fine against the Dann family will stand. “Fines are the newest way that the BLM is using to bring an end to traditional Western Shoshone peoples, and our spiritual and cultural ways,” said Carrie Dann. “We are tied to this land and we are not leaving.”

The fight for what they consider to be sovereignty and human rights has won the Shoshone an international human-rights award in 1993 from the Right Livelihood Foundation in Sweden. The $200,000 award, presented at the Swedish Parliament, was shared with three women from other countries. The Danns used their share to continue their fight on behalf of the Western Shoshone. They and other indigenous-rights activists have also caught the attention of the United Nations.

The Western Shoshone have made several attempts to negotiate the conflict with the Department of Interior and the BLM. The BLM has rejected the offers and continues to insist that the Western Shoshone be in full compliance with BLM regulations.

UPDATE BY AUTHOR PAT CALLIOTTE: “Mary and Carrie Dann are still actively pursuing their complaint before the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. This complaint was filed in 1993 by the Indian Law Resource Center on behalf of the Danns and other Western Shoshone to secure their aboriginal rights to their land. Over the past year, tribal resolutions have been passed by Te-Moak, Yomba, Ely, South Fork, Winnemucca, and Timbisha in support of the OAS complaint.

“The Bureau of Land Management is respecting the stay, issued in August 1998 by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (ILBA), for any BLM actions against a sacred hot spring, a cultural and spiritual encampment, and sections of the Dann Ranch that are on traditional Western Shoshone lands in Crescent Valley. The stay, which curbs any fines and other penalties against the Dams or the Western Shoshone National Council, and prohibits the BLM from razing any structures or confiscating any property, is binding until the ILBA rules on the appeal of Trespass Decisions issued on May 26, 1998.

“Other Western Shoshone not covered in the appeal, who continue to graze their traditional lands, are currently still subjected to BLM issuance of orders, fines and notices of impoundment. The Indian Law Resource Center hired a DC-based firm, the Hauser Group, to promote mainstream media coverage on the Western Shoshone/OAS issue. Tracy Zimmerman of the Hauser Group said that there was some media interest, but in midsummer there was nothing fresh occurring to encourage mainstream media to run the story.”

For more information:

Indian Law Resource Center, 602 North Ewing Street, Nelena, MT 59601, Tel: (406) 449-2006; or Fax: (406) 4492031.

Western Shoshone Defense Project, PO Box 211308, Crescent Valley, NV 89821, Tel: (775) 468-0230; or http://www.alphacdc.com/wsdp.