In 1863, while fighting its own civil war, the US government wanted a treaty with the Western Shoshone to allow passage of American's across Shoshone Territory in search of gold in California. The Shoshone had presented stiff opposition to American military incursions and prevented Americans from crossing their territory unmolested. A treaty, officials in the US government reasoned, was necessary. The Treaty of Ruby Valley was the result. This is a treaty of "peace and friendship" and of "passage." Way stations for resting were permitted, but no permanent American settlements were allowed. Shoshone and the United States concluded no other treaties that would permit the United States to claim or occupy any lands inside Shoshone Territory.
After the US Civil War the gold rush to California accelerated contributing to massacres of Indians up and down California Territory and it accelerated movement of American settlers into Shoshone Territory. US occupation of Shoshone Territory had begun in earnest. The American military moved into Shoshone Territory to defend the illegal settlers. Eventually the Americans had enough people occupying Shoshone lands they employed the US law, Northwest Ordinance, to declare the creation of the state of Nevada. That is occupation by a foreign power by any measure. An act recognized in the "law of nations" to be an act of war, and certainly and act in violation of the peaceful relations between states and nations.
The forcible "taking" of Shoshone Territory for the benefit of the United States was confirmed in 1979 by the United States Indian Claims Commission under docket Docket 326K. Using currency it prints for itself, the US government now wants to "pay" individual Shoshone for their "taking" at a per acre rate a thousand times smaller than the current value of Nevada land. At one point, there was a suggestion that the United States pay individual Shoshone a combined amount equal to the value of 24 million acres at 10 cents an acre.
Carrie Dann (a Shoshone cultural leader and adamant protector of Shoshone territorial prerogatives), former Western Shoshone National Council Chairman Ray Yowell and hundreds of other Shoshone refuse to accept payment for land the United States agrees it essentially stole by occupation. The US government plans to "divide and conquer" the Shoshone by enticing individual members with "land claims payments." Not only is the very idea of "payments in US currency" for stolen land a foul smelling concept, but to deliberately interfere in the internal affairs of the Shoshone by manipulating individuals with money is even fouler. The whole sordid story of American government double dealing and manipulations for the private gain of a few of their citizens is beyond foul. (More on individual and corporate interests in Shoshone Territory in another piece at another time.)
The Shoshone have been violated by more than 150 years of American deceptions. Shoshone Territory extends throughout all of Nevada, the southern tip of Idaho, a piece of western Utah and a piece of southern California. Of this the United States Indian Claims Commission agrees.
The Shoshone wish to keep their lands and use them for their own benefit. The lands have one of the most valuable properties now in the country: Las Vegas. These lands now have the United States nuclear testing sites of major US strategic importance. Five US military basis are now located in Shoshone Territory. Towns have been created by non-Shoshone occupying some of the best lands. In today's currency values (let's use the US dollar now), rental of these properties could exceed $40 billion a year. In other words, if the United States paid rent for the lands it has come to occupy, it would owe the Shoshone Nation billions of dollars...not the 10 cents on the dollar it now wants to give for the land it presumably believes it is purchasing.
The Western Shoshone National Council is correct to refuse the United States government's offer as they have since 1979. The Council should now turn to the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) under which the United States government has obligations to avoid violating the human rights of Indian Nations (The US signed the Helsinki Final Act in 1975 confirming its obligations under what would become the OSCE with 56 European states and the Russian Federation.)
The Western Shoshone National Council is correct to demand their land and not US money. But they should demand that the United States government pay rent for its occupation.
Finally, the Western Shoshone National Council must reject US government attempts at internal interference by informing its members that the Shoshone must deal with the United States on a government-to-government basis to resolve their dispute. The OSCE should be advised of US government interference and demands made for OSCE intervention. At the same time, the Western Shoshone National Council should file a petition to the Council on Human Rights at the United Nations charging the United States with violations of their rights to land, culture and freedom from coercion in recognition of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Is it any wonder why the United States government took the obstructionist position it did when it voted against the UNDRIP along with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand on September 13, 2007? The United States government has current crimes against the Shoshone to cover up that demand Shoshone rejection and violations of international standards of conduct that demand international attention.
(C) 2007 Center for World Indigenous Studies
(Dr. Rÿser is the author of Fourth World Geopolitics and the forth-coming book Nationcraft, and actively participated in the twelve-year effort to draft the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.)
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