WSNC Files to End Government and Corporate Assaults on Sovereignty

by Marianna Aue - Fall/Winter 1997 Newsletter

On March 20, 1997, the WSNC filed a complaint against the United States, certain officials of the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of the Interior, and the junior mining company Oro Nevada Resources, Inc.  They are requesting an injunction against further invasions of Newe Sogobia, and breaches of Western Shoshone sovereignty until the land title dispute is settled, as well as seeking declaratory relief and compensation for damages incurred.  Specifically, the WSNC is seeking a cessation of Oro Nevada's unauthorized drilling activities, of BLM issue of mining permits in Western Shoshone Territory, and of BLM harassment of Western Shoshone grazers using their traditional lands.   "Our territory, land base, and resources are being eroded constantly, without settling the land title, and for that reason we have filed an injunction," says WSNC Chief Raymond Yowell.  "We are questioning the hinge-pin of United States Indian law, and challenging them to live up to their reputation as a ‘Nation of Laws.’ We are looking forward to seeing how they will try to fabricate history, again."  While the Council foresees no favorable rulings from a hostile court, they are pursuing a wide range of measures to affirm Western Shoshone sovereignty, of which this is one.  Even as court proceedings  move forward, the Council remains open to negotiation options.

Background - US v. Nye County Intervention
As reported in the WSDP's 1996 Newsletter, the Western Shoshone National Council (WSNC) filed an intervention into the suit US v. Nye County on June 29, 1995.  The US sued Nye County (in South-Central Nevada) after their commissioners passed several resolutions declaring approximately 100,000 square miles of so-called federal lands and roads to be state and county property.  Seizing the opportunity to finally litigate issues of land title, the WSNC formally intervened, bringing Western Shoshone land rights into the case.  Their position is substantiated by the Treaty of Ruby Valley, the Northwest Ordinance, the Treaty of Guadalupe de Hidalgo, and the Act to Organize the Territory of Nevada - all of which recognize Western Shoshone and/or native peoples' land tenure.  After an initial denial of the motion to intervene, the Council appealed to the 9th Circuit Court, where the decision still rests.

Oro Nevada's Response
In reply to most of the allegations, Oro states simply that they have "insufficient information upon which to determine the truth or falsity" of the charges and therefore denies the allegations.  The company does show it's own version on the "truth" of the land question, however, and points to their adherence to BLM regulations, "affirmatively alleges that the Plaintiffs have no right, title or interest in any property upon which Oro Nevada is conducting mining exploration and/or any related activities," and claims that the WSNC has no basis upon which to charge Oro.  It is unclear how Oro can claim such ignorance or think that Western Shoshone have no "right, title, or interest" in the lands they are exploiting, given the clear outcry against their activities (see Oro article).  Western Shoshone people have shown without a doubt that they have a continued and vested concern with their homelands.  Oro is trying to absolve itself of responsibility for the damage it is knowingly causing Western Shoshone land and people, and is denying Western Shoshone land rights in hope of reaping profits off stolen land.

The Legal "Game" with the US
The US government has also taken its well-worn tactic of continually skirting land-rights and sovereignty issues, and has attempted a series of legal maneuvers to obstruct the process of the injunction.  Unsurprisingly, the US moved for a summary judgement, a dismissal without litigation, based on the claim that the Indian Claims Commission had found Western Shoshone title to have been extinguished, as ruled in US v. Dann.  A summary judgement can only be used if no issues of fact are outstanding, as is clearly not the case, especially given the WSNC intervention in the Nye County suit.  The motion, however, is still pending, even as the case moves forward.
Until January 1998, the complaint lies in what is known as the Discovery Phase, when both parties involved may request documents and information of their opponents.  The United States had filed to skip this vital phase, trying to take advantage of the fact that the Council is appearing without a lawyer, and to leave the WSNC without access to materials it will use as evidence.   However, the judge sustained the WSNC's objections to omitting this phase, and it is proceeding.  Both sides have requested information.

The very fact of self-representation is also under contestation.  After years of misrepresentation and maltreatment by those who claim to speak for the Western Shoshone - from lawyers, to BIA officials, to the "trustees" in the Department of the Interior - the National Council wishes to speak through its own representative and chief, Raymond Yowell.  Yet the United States and the judge have both stated that the Western Shoshone cannot appear pro se, or on their own behalf.  The WSNC is fighting the appointment of Judge Howard D. McKibben to the case, citing biases and discriminatory comments against Shoshone people in previous cases, including that of the charges against Clifford Dann after the 1991 roundup.

The US is trying very hard to stack the deck against the WSNC, and use legalese and its own power in its own courts to avoid the issues and injustices at hand.  Likewise, Oro Nevada is acting to avoid responsibility for its transgressions, and claims ignorance even as it seeks to expand its drilling.  These entities must be held accountable for their assaults on Western Shoshone land and sovereignty.

What you can do
Write to President Clinton, reminding him of his obligation to recognize Western Shoshone land rights!
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20001

Support for the lawsuit can be directed to:
Western Shoshone National Council
c/o Corporation for Newe Sogobia
PO Box 21479
Reno, NV 89515-1479

 Background on Western Shoshone Issues