Indian claims bill revived in Congress
Congress is again considering a proposal to distribute more than $130 million to Western Shoshone Indians to settle treaty violations by the federal government. But not all Shoshones favor the distribution.
The House Resources Committee on Wednesday reviewed the proposal authored by Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev. But Gibbons’ plan got the same negative reaction from some Indian representatives that a similar plan from Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., got last year.
Gibbons said most Western Shoshone tribal members want the long-standing claims issue resolved, and he hopes for prompt action on the measure by the committee and the full House.
But the Indian Law Resource Center issued a statement saying the bill “threatens to extinguish Western Shoshone land rights and to further compound a serious human rights problem now facing the U.S. government.”
The center said the bill would “provide statutory finality for the illegal taking of Western Shoshone lands.”
“In the past, similar bills have encountered stiff resistance from many Western Shoshone leaders and individuals who oppose distribution of Western Shoshone claims awards unless Western Shoshone land rights issues are fairly resolved as well,” the center said.
Gibbons had promised to reintroduce the measure after Reid’s proposal died last year as Congress adjourned.
Under the plan, the money would be divided among an estimated 6,600 Western Shoshones in Western states. But opponents claim acceptance of the money would void Indian claims to 23 million acres of land covered by the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley.
The Shoshone funds were set aside in the late 1970s by the Indian Lands Claim Commission, a government panel tasked with compensating American Indians for lands taken by the United States.
At the time, the commission awarded the Western Shoshones $26 million, but the tribe refused to take the payment, citing the land ownership claims.
With interest, the fund has grown to more than $138 million.
Last year, 1,647 Western Shoshone adults voted in favor of accepting the payment and 156 voted against it, according to Nancy Stewart, co-chairwoman of the Fallon band of Western Shoshones. But opponents of the settlement have questioned the manner in which the balloting was conducted.