Open Letter from Western Shoshone

 
June 22, 2004 Message from Hugh Stevens, Chairman Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone. For more information call Te-Moak Tribal Office at 775-738-9251.

AN OPEN LETTER
to the
President of the United States,
the U. S. Congress,
and the American People
from the Western Shoshone Nation

Concerning the Worst Case of Injustice to be Inflicted Upon our Nation's American Indians Upon in More than a Century

Dear President Bush, Members of Congress, the People of the United States:

Today, the Western Shoshone Nation is in a struggle for survival against powerful forces within the U. S. Congress that are attempting to steal our ancestral homeland. While Western Shoshone warriors are fighting in Iraq to defend and protect the United States, certain members of Congress are attempting to illegally confiscate our homeland, which the U. S. Government promised to preserve and protect for the Western Shoshone Nation by the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty.

If the Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Bill (H.R. 884/S.618) is passed and approved by the President, our Western Shoshone warriors will not have a homeland to return to when they complete their tour of duty in Iraq.

Today, the Western Shoshone People are not being attacked by U.S. Army soldiers who are firing their rifles and swinging their sabers in murderous attacks upon our people, as they did in the 1800s. Instead, today, the Western Shoshone People are being attacked by a Congressional juggernaut that has been fueled by false and misleading information that is intent upon stealing our sacred lands from under our feet.

While the direct frontal attacks of the 1800s were deadly and killed many Shoshones, today's Congressional attacks upon the Western Shoshone are far more devastating and destructive, since, if they are successful, they will destroy the entire Shoshone Nation.

People say "How could this be happening in the United States of America in the 21st Century?" But it is happening, and the legislative conquest of the Western Shoshone will succeed unless stopped by Congress, the American People, and the President of the United States.

WHAT CONGRESS IS BEING TOLD

Members of Congress have been told that the Western Shoshone People want the distribution of the funds that were made available to the Western Shoshone Nation in 1979 by the Indian Claims Commission for damages inflicted upon the Western Shoshone People in 1872. The funding, which represents 15¢ per acre plus interest, is currently being held in the U.S. Treasury.

THE TRUTH

Seven tribal governments of the Western Shoshone Nation strongly oppose the distribution of the Indian Claims Commission funding which, if accepted, will extinguish their title and ownership of 24,000,000 acres of Western Shoshone lands that were guaranteed to the Western Shoshone by the U.S. Government by the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty.

These lands have never been ceded or sold by the Western Shoshone. and remain the homeland of the Western Shoshone Nation.

ILLEGAL ACTIONS BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

In 1951, Western Shoshone filed a claim for damages with the Indian Claims Commission for actions being taken by the Federal Government to illegally confiscate Western Shoshone lands. Twenty-seven years later, in 1978, the Indian Claims Commission got around to responding to the Western Shoshone claim. Finally, in 1979, the Indian Claims Commission attempted to make a final judgment on the Western Shoshone claim. By law, in order for the Indian Claims Commission to make a final judgment on a tribal claim, two actions were required. First, the amount of monetary judgment for damages had to be determined by the Indian Claims Commission, and secondly, a final report had to be filed with Congress that defined the basis for the judgment. In the case of the Western Shoshone claim, the amount of monetary judgment was established by the Indian Claims Commission, BUT THE REQUIRED FINAL REPORT WAS NEVER FILED WITH CONGRESS... WITHOUT BOTH STEPS BEING TAKEN, ANY SETTLEMENT AMOUNT WOULD BE INVALID, AND ANY PAYMENT BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FOR THE TAKING OF INDIAN LANDS WOULD BE ILLEGAL.

During the time period from 1946 to 1979 that the Indian Claims Commission was authorized by Congress to address Indian claims, 320 claims were addressed, but 20 claims were not completed, since no final reports were filed with Congress on the 20 claims. The Western Shoshone claim was one of the claims that was never completed by the Indian Claims Commission before Congress abolished the Indian Claims Commission in 1979.

The Indian Claims Commission "final judgment" on the Western Shoshone claim remains incomplete as of this day, and can never be
completed, since the Indian Claims Commission is no longer in operation.

SECRETARY OF INTERIOR ACCEPTS INDIAN CLAIMS COMMISSION FUNDING AS THE "TRUSTEE" OF THE WESTERN SHOSHONE

Despite the fact that the legal responsibility of the Indian Claims Commission was never fulfilled, the Secretary of Interior, acting as the trustee of the Western Shoshone Nation, accepted the payment of 15¢ per acre, plus interest, as a "fair settlement" for the confiscation of 24,000,000 acres of Western Shoshone lands by the federal government, a settlement that included compensation for the richest gold fields in the United States from which $25 billion in gold has been removed from Western Shoshone lands without any compensation being paid to the Western Shoshone Indians, as required by the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty.

THE INDIAN CLAIMS COMMISSION DECLARED THAT THE WESTERN SHOSHONE LANDS WERE "LOST" BY THE WESTERN SHOSHONE ON JULY 1, 1872 AS A RESULT OF "GRADUAL ENCROACHMENT" ON THE WESTERN SHOSHONE LANDS... A COMPLETELY FABRICATED AND UNTRUE STATEMENT.

The 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty was a treaty of "peace and friendship between the Western Shoshone and the U. S. Government. Article II of the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty gave the U.S. Government, emigrants, and travelers across the Western Shoshone lands permission to have unobstructed and free access to travel through and on Western Shoshone lands, but the Treaty never ceded ownership of the lands.

Specifically, Article II of the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty states:
"The sevaral routes of travel through the Shoshone Country, now and hereafter used by White men, shall be forever free, and unobstructed by the said lands, for the use of the Government of the United States, and of all emigrants and travelers under its authority and protection, without molestation or injury from them."

For the Indian Claims Commission to declare that the Shoshone "lost their lands" in 1872, three years after the Ruby Valley Treaty was ratified by Congress, is not possible inasmuch as "encroachment" by definition means to trespass on or through territory, and the word "trespass" means to enter without permission. The Western Shoshone gave their permission for the U.S. Government, emigrants, and settlers to pass through and use Western Shoshone lands; therefore, the taking of Western Shoshone lands by "gradual encroachment" was a fabricated myth that was made up by the Indian Claims Commission. It is not possible to trespass across lands if permission is granted to enter and use the lands, and that is precisely what the Western Shoshone Nation granted to the U.S. Government, to all emigrants and settlers by the terms of the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty.

WHAT THE WESTERN SHOSHONE NATION IS SEEKING

Mr. President, and the People of America, please do not allow the Congress to use the injustices and abuses of our nation's American Indians that occurred during the 1800s to serve as the standard for which continuing abuse and mistreatment of Indian people will continue in the 21st Century, precisely what approval of H.R.884/S.618 would perpetuate.

The United Nations, the Organizations of American States, and the National Congress of American Indians have all called for the U.S. Government to enter into good faith negotiations with the Western Shoshone Nation in an attempt to resolve this long-standing dispute that threatens our people, our culture, and the very survival of the Western Shoshone Nation.

We are prepared to enter into good faith negotiations, and we sincerely believe that a fair and just resolution of this matter can be
achieved.

We appeal to the President of the United States to issue an Executive Order to the U. S. Department of Interior to direct the Secretary of Interior to enter into good faith negotiations, on a nation-to-nation basis, with the Western Shoshone Nation in an attempt to a reach fair and just resolution f the land dispute related to the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty between the Western Shoshone Nation and the U. S. Government.

And we appeal to the U.S. Senate, please do not approve H.R.884/S.618 without at least giving the Western Shoshone Nation a hearing on the bill so that our voices may be heard.

Hugh Stevens,
Chairman, Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone


Informant: Kalynda

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