An American Indian tribe will return to Geneva this month to renew their claims before a United Nations committee that the U.S. government unconstitutionally stole its ancestral land.
"We see no way we can continue internally in the United States
so we're taking our argument across the water to the United
Nations, and the United Nations is listening," Raymond Yowell,
chief of the Western Shoshone National Council said Tuesday.
He said Western Shoshone tribes lost the ears of every president
from Jimmy Carter on after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1979
that a treaty approved when Abraham Lincoln was president gave the
government trusteeship over tribal lands.
"They did not need to talk to us any more," he said.
The tribes turned to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of
All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 2001, arguing before it in
Geneva that the U.S. policy of "gradual encroachment" after the
treaty was enacted in 1863 amounted to racism against an indigenous
The committee responded in August 2005 that the tribes had
raised questions that deserved answers from the U.S. government,
which has not responded.
"The U.N. can bring pressures on the United States because of
the shameful findings," attorney Robert Hager said at a news
The Indian Claims Commission of 1946 determined the lands had
been taken during settlement of the West and awarded $26 million to
the tribe based on the 1872 value of 24 million acres. The money
has been collecting interest since 1979.
The sides don't agree on the amount of acreage involved, with
estimates from about 24 million to more than 60 million. The
Western Shoshone ancestral lands ranged from the Snake River Valley
in Idaho to Salt Lake Valley in Utah, across most of eastern and
central Nevada, and into Death Valley and the Mojave Desert in
Nor do the parties agree on the number of Indians eligible for
the settlement - from about 6,000 to more than 10,000.
A bill signed by President Bush in July 2004 gave approval to
distributing more than $145 million as compensation after some
Shoshones voted to accept the distribution in a disputed election.
"The tribe twice has voted decisively in favor of the
distribution," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Sen. Harry Reid, a
proponent of the bill. "The senator will continue to work with the
Interior Department to assure a fair and expeditious distribution
under the law."
Yowell has asked a federal court to say whether tribal members
would be giving up their treaty rights if they accept the payments.
Hager, who represents the Western Shoshone, said the United
States never established a right to the indigenous land and was
granted only limited access under the Treaty of Ruby Valley.
"Unlike all other Indians, they never signed a treaty giving up
their land. This government has refused to accept the legal concept
of that treaty."
Yowell added that while his tribe has adhered to the terms of
the 1863 pact, the government has not.
"Yucca Mountain is not in the treaty. Mining is not in the
treaty," he said, calling both a "violation of Mother Earth."
"That's not allowable. It's against our religious beliefs," he
Tribal elder Carrie Dann, who with her late sister Mary, has
been a focal point of the quarter-century fight over the Shoshone
land, said enforcing the treaty was an unconstitutional act.
"It's racism as far as I'm concerned," she said. "If we have
the same rights, why don't we practice these rights for all
Yowell cautioned that cyanide runoff from mining operations and
the potential threat of Yucca Mountain aren't just a concern for
the indigenous people.
"Radiation doesn't respect the color of peoples' skin," he