Western Shoshone Land Rights and Grazing:
An introductory question and answer session

Who is the Western Shoshone National Council? 
The Western Shoshone National Council (WSNC) is the traditional government of the Western Shoshone Nation whose jurisdiction spans the territory outlined in the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. The WSNC is not a federally-recognized tribal council created by the United States Indian Reorganization Act; instead, the WSNC, as a Nation, is comprised of representatives from the various Western Shoshone communities. The WSNC is led by its Chief Raymond Yowell.

Who are the Traditional Western Shoshone Cattle grazers?
The traditional Western Shoshone cattle grazers from Wells, South Fork and Odgers Ranch operate as a federally-recognized tribal entity, complying with tribal rules and regulations on the South Fork reservation under the name of the Temoak Livestock Association (TMLA). However, when these traditional cattlemen graze livestock off the reservation on the disputed lands, they are individually exercising Western Shoshone sovereignty under Article 6 of the Treaty of Ruby Valley. Prior to 1996, the Yomba and Duckwater Shoshone communities ran livestock on disputed lands; however, the BLM pressured these cattlemen into complying with BLM regulations. Now, the BLM is using this "divide and conquer" strategy to pressure the remaining cattlegrazers to sign agreements with the BLM. Last year, the South Fork cattlemen received individual fines for their "trespass" violations; each person was told they owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the BLM. But the cattlemen will not capitulate until the US can prove how they acquired title Western Shoshone lands.

Why is title to this land in question?
The only agreement signed between the Western Shoshone Nation and the United States was the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. The Treaty was one of "peace and friendship" allowing the safe passage of settlers through the above mentioned lands occupied by Western Shoshone; the Treaty also allowed the construction of railroads, mining and settlements, but it did not convey title to or for any of these activities.

In the 1950s the Indian Land Claims Commission (ICC) was established to compensate Indians for lands that had been ceded to the U.S. This Commission created a date at which Western Shoshone lands had allegedly been taken by the U.S through a process of "gradual encroachment" by white settlers - July 1st, 1872. The 26 million acres of Western Shoshone lands were valued at the 1872 price of $24 million. $20 million were payment for minerals and other resources removed before 1872:  this leaves the payment for the land itself at $0.15 per acre. In 1979, the award was placed in a Department of Treasury account where it sits to this day, refused by the Western Shoshone. The traditional Western Shoshone opinion is that land can not be bought and sold; it is one's mother and source of life. Furthermore, Shoshone opposition to the ICC process includes the fact that the ICC stepped out of its jurisdiction when it chose a date of taking of Western Shoshone lands; the ICC was set-up to compensate for lands that had already been taken. The money awarded for Shoshone lands did not give justice to its true value; even mining companies pay between $2.50-$5.00 under the 1872 Mining Law for these same lands.

Hasn't the title question been settled by the courts?
No. Title to Western Shoshone lands has never been litigated in the US courts. In 1986, Nevada District Court Judge Bruce Thompson stated in his "Findings of Fact" that the Treaty of Ruby Valley is still in full force and effect. The Supreme Court held that payment had been effected, even though no money had been accepted and the ICC process was widely opposed. The US, as the trustee to the Western Shoshone, accepted the money for the Shoshone - simply transferring the money from one account to another.

What are the current efforts toward recognition of Western Shoshone land rights?
Western Shoshone continue to exercise their sovereignty by using their lands: For the last 14 years Western Shoshone cattlemen from Wells, South Fork and Odgers Ranch have run livestock on disputed lands without paying the BLM; Crescent Valley Western Shoshone have continued grazing livestock on lands their family has used since before the arrival of white men.

The Western Shoshone National Council (WSNC) is the traditional government of the nation. As such the WSNC takes every opportunity to assert the sovereignty of the Nation. In July 1995, WSNC filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit between Nye County v. US where the title of lands in Nevada were to be litigated. In March 1996, the WSNC filed an Injunction against the BLM and mining company, Oro Nevada Resources against further use and development of Western Shoshone lands. The Indian Law Resource Center has filed a human rights complaint against the United States on behalf of the Western Shoshone before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

What actions have the BLM taken against the Western Shoshone cattle grazers in the past?
In 1973 the BLM notified Mary and Carrie Dann, Western Shoshone sisters from Crescent Valley, NV that they were "trespassing" by grazing cows and horses on so-called public lands. From 1974 through 1991, the Dann sisters fought the United States BLM's charges in federal courts. In March and November 1992, the BLM rounded up 430 horses they claimed belonged to the Dann family; however the horses were wild mustangs, not Dann horses.

During the roundups, the Dann family and supporters of the Western Shoshone non-violently resisted the BLM's efforts. Clifford Dann doused himself in gasoline and threatened to ignite himself; the federal agents attacked him, charged him with threatening a federal officer. Clifford refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the US Court hearing his case, so he did not argue the incorrect charge. Clifford spent 9 months in federal prison and faced a $5,000 fine.

In 1992, in response to the BLM's harassment of Crescent Valley Western Shoshone, the WSNC nationalized the Dann family's livestock; the animals now carry the SN (Shoshone Nation) brand.

How does gold mining relate to this situation?
Western Shoshone territory provides nearly 60% of the US's gold, drawing billions of dollars for transnational mining corporations from Western Shoshone lands. Mining industry journals speculate that Crescent Valley could be the next Carlin Trend, the most heavily concentrated and developed mining strip in North America. Western Shoshone are outspoken critics of the US's policies and the mineral industry that give away and deplete Western Shoshone lands and waters. As indigenous people and the long-term inhabitants of these lands, the Western Shoshone will be the ones to suffer the consequences of the mineral developments.

In the early 1990s, the BLM claimed that the Western Shoshone in Crescent Valley were overgrazing the land with their livestock. This claim assumed that of the five different owners of livestock in the Crescent Valley area, only Western Shoshone animals ate grass! Western Shoshone were also quick to point out that if the BLM honestly wanted to talk about the health and management of these lands, then mining must also be included in the discussions. The BLM has yet to accept this condition.

In July 1996 an exploratory mining company from Toronto, Canada - Oro Nevada - purchased the ranch neighboring the Crescent Valley Western Shoshone home. Oro Nevada's exploration plans have received considerable opposition by Western Shoshone, including the WSNC and resolutions from the Ely, Yomba, Timbisha and Duckwater Tribal Councils. Oro Nevada has continued to pressure the BLM to enforce their grazing regulations on the Crescent Valley Western Shoshone as a means to distract and harass Western Shoshone opposition to mining activities in the area.

What is the current situation?
The Elko District BLM Manager Helen Hankins explained that last year she filed Trespass Notices against 14 people. She says that she can not indiscriminately enforce her regulations; therefore, the Western Shoshone must also be charged with Trespass and Unauthorized Use. Yet, Ms. Hankins ignores the fact that the Western Shoshone are members of a Nation that signed a Treaty with the United States; the US is purportedly the trustee of the Indian people. How then can the BLM file trespass charges?

On Feb. 19th , the BLM issued Notices of Trespass to the Dann family and the Western Shoshone Defense Project for the WSDP's encampment where ceremonies and gatherings are held, for the fence and sign around a culturally and spiritually important hot spring threatened by mining activities, and for an area used by the Dann family ranch. The WSNC authorized the encampment as well as the fence and sign prohibiting mining around the hot spring.

The WSNC, the traditional cattlegrazers, the Dann family, and the WSDP have all stated that until the United States or the BLM provides documentation on how land was transferred, they will continue to recognize Western Shoshone sovereignty on Western Shoshone lands.

What do the Western Shoshone want?
The WSNC has consistently expressed willingness and interest in participating in honest and true negotiations with the United States on the proper nation-to-nation level. The United States response, however, has been to set negotiations on the agency level and to limit the discussion to the distribution of the ICC money. Nonetheless, the National Council is still ready to meet and negotiate with the United States government on the issue of Shoshone territorial rights.

The WSNC does not challenge any of the private land holdings within Western Shoshone territory, only the land claimed by the federal government (approximately 85% is federally claimed). The Western Shoshone want recognition of sovereignty on these lands. This would enable Western Shoshone to exercise the rights and responsibilities given to them by the Creator for the protection, preservation and restoration of Newe Sogobia.

Main Page of the Western Shoshone Defense Project
Background on Western Shoshone issues