The solidarity became apparent as speaker after speaker commented on the U.S. Navy’s training range expansion.
Ranchers, veterans, recreationists and champions of open spaces supported tribal members in asking the U.S. Navy not to expand the Fallon Range Training Complex by more than 600,000 acres primarily in Churchill, Nye and Mineral counties. More than 200 people packed the Fallon Convention Center on Jan. 28 to voice their opposition during a comment session that lasted more than two hours.
Churchill County commissioners had sought a final meeting to allow residents to comment on the Navy’s Final Environmental Impact Statement and also to show the county’s concerns. The Navy proposes to renew existing public land withdrawal of 202,859 acres which expires late next year. The renewal includes 27,359 acres for Bravo-16, 53,547 acres for Bravo-17, 29,012 acres for Bravo-19, 21,576 acres for Bravo-20, 68,804 acres for Dixie Valley Training Area and 2,561 acres for Shoal Site.
Amber Torres, chairwoman of the Walker River Paiute Tribe in Schurz, 40 miles south of Fallon, said the tribe would like to support the legislation and partnership with the Navy, but she said too many roadblocks exist.
“We understand the men and women need to be trained properly,” said Torres, the final speaker during the comment session. “We can’t do this because our concerns have not been addressed.”
Torres said the final EIS fails to address the impact the training-range expansion will cause to tribal land. She said social and economic impacts will affect the residents as will the restrictions placed on visiting sacred sites.
“To me that is very disheartening to ask permission,” she said, emphasizing the Walker River Tribe is against the expansion.
Furthermore, Torres said the Navy must compensate the Walker River Paiute Tribe and its people due to land contamination from past activities.
Stacey Montooth, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission, is the liaison to the governor’s office for the state’s 27 tribes, bands and colonies.
“It was because of Gov. (Steve) Sisolak mainly advocating for the tribes that the Navy finally called a meeting not only for the counties but also for the tribal nations,” she said. “The process is very important. It has really shown us the federal government gets what it wants with the Native American communities, but I am also hopeful for the Native American people.”
Montooth said the expansion in its current form will cause “a devastating impact” to the wildlife. Although the Indian people are committed to the military, she said they will also fight for Mother Earth.
In his prepared comments at the beginning of the public hearing, Alex Stone, EIS program manager with the Navy’s U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the Navy will continue to work with the various tribes. According to language in the final EIS, “After discussions with interested Indian Tribes, the Navy acknowledges that there is a potential for significant impacts to access under all action alternatives. The discussion of Public Accessibility-related impacts in the final EIS has been revised to indicate that impacts to tribal access to cultural resources may be significant.”
Stone said the Navy would establish liaison positions between Navy and tribes to confer with another on projects as they move forward.
Janet Weed not only represented herself but the Yomba Shoshone Tribe of the Yomba Reservation in northern Nye County, which is 55 miles south of Austin. She said the tribe opposes the expansion.
“We have respect for the military,” she said. “Our native people have served.”
Weed, though, shifted her discussion to the range expansion and said he 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley gave certain rights to the U.S. government in the Nevada territory but indicated the Shoshone would not cede their land. She said if the government wants to take her people’s land for range expansion, then the tribe should be compensated for any loss.
Weed added the Yomba tribe is upset that many artifacts noted in the final EIS report will be fenced off. She asked the Navy to reconsider its expansion and to work with the U.S. Air Force in using their range.
“You don’t have to expand,” she said. “Everything is already put in place.”
One speaker from the Lovelock Paiute Tribe and two others from the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe spoke on behalf of themselves.
Julie Hughes said the expansion in southern Pershing County near the Stillwater Wildlife Refuge will cut off access to pine nut gathering areas. She said access to Unionville on the backside of the Humboldt Range will be limited.
“It will be hard to get over there to get our pine nuts,” she said. “We harvest every year.”
Hughes said the pilots currently fly too low over the area, which also concerns her.
“They fly by and wave to us,” she described. “They are so close I see their faces.”
Hughes gave a resounding no to the expansion proposal.
“I disagree with the Navy,” she said.
Rochelle Downs, a Fallon tribal member, said the land in west-central Nevada is sacred. She said sacred places cover the entire landscape and her people have been in this area for thousands of year. She expressed her disappointment with the Navy.
“Tribal burial grounds that surround bombing ranges are not sacred grounds because if they were, you would not put your buffer zone where thousands of burials are,” she said.
She compared the withdrawal to the size of Rhode Island and said Nevada is not a wasteland. She also called the area her homeland. Downs asked the Navy to request an extension from Congress to resolve the problems on the FRTC expansion.
Speaking passionately about the land withdrawal, Donna Cossette of Fallon said the military has destroyed the land and restricted access to the public.
“Take a look at my face because you will be seeing it again and again,” she said. “I will be the one who will be arrested for our sacred places.”
Cosette supports Native Americans who join the military and has worked on projects to feature veterans from the various tribes. She said the federal government, though, is killing her people and eroding their traditional ways of living. Her voice grew angrier as she spoke
“Your war machine always causes destruction wherever it goes,” she said. “Millions of acres south of here and your war machine still wants more. You don’t live here. We do.”
Cosette rhetorically asked why the Navy is mad at her people.
“Is it because we were here first?” she quizzed. “You leave destruction in your wake, and we want you to get out.”