Archiver > NA-TRISTATE > 2002-08 > 1028695562

Subject: [NA-TRISTATE] U.S. violates Shoshone human rights
Date: Wed, 7 Aug 2002 00:46:02 EDT

U.S. violates Shoshone human rights

Posted: August 02, 2002 - 9:00am EST
by: Valerie Taliman / Southwest Bureau Chief / Indian Country Today

WASHINGTON -- The United States government is violating international
human rights in its treatment of Western Shoshone elders Carrie and Mary
Dann, said a long-awaited report released July 29 by the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights. It is the first time an international body
has formally recognized that the U.S. has violated the rights of
American Indians.

The report supports the Danns’ argument that the U.S. government used
illegitimate means to gain control of ancestral Shoshone lands and
questions the government’s handling of millions of acres of land under
the Indian Claims Commission.

The human rights charges came on the eve of a Senate Indian Affairs
Committee hearing Aug. 2 on S. 958, a bill sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid,
D-Nev., that would distribute some $138 million in a land claim
settlement to members of the Western Shoshone Nation. The Danns and
other traditional leaders oppose the payout, although a large majority
of voting members supported it in a recent referendum organized by
tribal allies of Sen. Reid.

"This report will have important implications for Indian nations all
over the country that have complained for years about losing their lands
as a result of fraudulent or high-handed claims in the Indian Claims
Commission," said Robert T. Coulter, executive director of the Indian
Law Resource Center, which brought the case before the Inter-American
Commission on the Danns’ behalf. "At last, there is a thorough, legal
decision concluding that these procedures are seriously wrong and that
they violate the most basic human rights of the Indian peoples

The human rights commission found that the claims process -- which the
U.S. says extinguished the Western Shoshone rights to most of their land
in Nevada -- was a flawed process that denied the Danns and other
Western Shoshones their human rights.

The commission concluded that the U.S. violated several articles of the
American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, including the
right of equality before the law, the right to a fair trial and the
right to property.

The commission recommended that the government take steps to provide a
fair legal process to determine the Danns’ and other Western Shoshone
land rights.

The sisters, now in their 70s, have spent 30 years fighting for the
collective rights of their people to retain Native homelands and have
been subjected to threats, harassment, helicopter surveillance and raids
by federal agents to confiscate their livestock.

Carrie Dann insists the federal government has "terrorized" them for
years, causing daily mental stress and even physical assaults as the
sisters tried to block Bureau of Land Management agents from taking 269
horses in one particularly traumatic round-up. They have repeatedly
refused to pay federal grazing fees for their livestock on the grounds
that the land still belongs to the Western Shoshone Nation.

The Aug. 2 Senate hearing was to take up a controversial bill that would
distribute the money awarded by the Indian Claims Commission in the
Western Shoshone case though five tribal chairmen representing the
Western Shoshone Nation have publicly objected to Reid’s efforts to
distribute the money.

In a referendum organized by Te-Moak Tribal Council Chairman Felix Ike
in early June, 1647 tribal members voted in favor of the payout and 156
opposed it. The vote delighted the Western Shoshone Claims Distribution
Steering Committee, which supports the distribution. But chairman of
five Western Shoshone bands, including the four that make up the Te-Moak
Council, objected that the vote did not follow established procedures.
Some also questioned the role of Sen. Reid in organizing the referendum.
Questions about the wording of a previous vote were instrumental in
canceling a Senate hearing on S. 958 scheduled for March.

"It is very saddening that Senator Reid has decided to unapologetically
undermine Western Shoshone tribal sovereignty and governmental integrity
by supporting the legislative objectives of a few people comprising the
self-appointed Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Steering Committee
without regard to the strong opposition of virtually all Western
Shoshone tribal governments to S. 958," said Tom Luebben, attorney for
two of the Shoshone bands.

"The scheduled March 21 hearing was cancelled on less than a day’s
notice, although representatives of most Shoshone governments were in
Washington and prepared to testify. The hearing was apparently cancelled
because most of the witnesses were going to say things Senator Reid
doesn’t want to hear and doesn’t want in the record."

Many Western Shoshone bands and the Danns oppose the bill because of
concern that it would undermine their rights to their lands and compound
the human rights violations identified by the Inter-American Commission.

"Western Shoshone leaders have opposed distribution of the Indian Claims
Commission Award for 22 years. Reid is attempting to work around tribal
leaders representing the vast majority of Western Shoshone citizens,"
said Ian Zabarte, a longtime activist in defense of Shoshone lands.

"S. 958 does not provide for a land base necessary for the growth and
development of the Western Shoshone Nation as contemplated by the 1863
Treaty of Ruby Valley, ensuring instead that the current condition of
economic starvation continues on the tiny colonies and reservations."

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