How the U.S. lost to the Western Shoshone at the U.N.
MNN. March 16, 2006. On March 10, 2006, the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found that the United States was denying the Western Shoshone people “their rights to own, develop, control and use their land and resources”. They warned the U.S. to respect their obligations according to the Convention”. The U. S. was urged to “freeze”, “desist” and “stop” their actions against the Western Shoshone and abide by the Committee’s “Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure”.
The Western Shoshone land base covers approximately 60 million acres, stretching across the states of Nevada, Idaho, Utah and California. Their land rights were entrenched in the 1868 Treaty of Ruby Valley. The U.S. used a procedure similar to that of the Canadian and Ontario governments when they turned land belonging to the Stoney Point people at Ipperwash into a park. The U.S. declared the Western Shoshone lands had become “public” or federal lands in violation of the treaty.
The U.S. uses Western Shoshone land for military testing, open pit cyanide heap leach gold mining and nuclear waste disposal planning. They have used military style seizures of Shoshone livestock, trespass fines in the millions of dollars and ongoing armed surveillance of Western Shoshone who assert their original and treaty rights. When the Western Shoshone questioned their actions, they were denied “fair access” to the U.S. courts. The U.S. courts represent the United States, one of the adversaries in the conflict. So the Western Shoshone took their case to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This became the neutral tribunal required under international law.
In 2001 the Committee had already expressed alarm that U.S. laws and treatment of indigenous peoples continue to be based on the outdated, colonial era “doctrine of discovery.” The Committee’s decision is a direct negation of the colonial process.
The US was extinguishing Western Shoshone’s rights through “gradual encroachment” on their lands even though the Indigenous people continue to use and occupy their lands. This process was crafted in the U.S. Indian Claims Commission which does not follow “international human rights norms, principles and standards”.
U.S. tactics include:
1. Privatizing ancestral lands so they could be transferred to multinational corporations and energy developers.
2. Destroying and denying them access to their spiritual and cultural areas; opening a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain; using explosives and open pit gold mining on Mont Tenabo and Horse Canyon; and issuing geothermal energy leases at, or near, their hot springs.
3. Resuming underground nuclear testing;
4. Conducting all activities without consulting with and despite the protests of the Indigenous peoples;
5. Intimidating and harassing them through imposing grazing fees, trespass and collection notices; impounding horses and livestock; restricting hunting, fishing and gathering; and arresting them; and
6. Blocking them from challenging these actions before an impartial court;
The Committee has ordered the U.S. to immediately stop all of these tactics.
Joe Kennedy, of the Western Shoshone delegation, said, “We have rights to protect our homelands and stop the destruction of our land, water, and air by the abuses of the United States government and the multinational corporations”. He asked people worldwide to help stop this insanity to secure a safe future for all.
Recognizing Indigenous rights is the beginning of healing the earth and the international family. We need support to assert our jurisdiction so that we can look after the environment. The interests in health, safety and the desire to lead a wholesome life are shared by Indigenous and ordinary people worldwide. In the past year the citizens of New York State have supported the Kanion’ke:haka/Mohawk in stopping the fraudulent land claims and the destructive plans of the multinational mega energy corporations.
There was no valid consultation with or consent by the constitutional Indigenous people according to the standards set by U.S., Canadian or international law. What is called “international law” is not yet ‘international’ because Indigenous people do not participate in its formulations. So we are still at the mercy of state governments. However, state governments have become estranged from the populations they supposedly represent.
Deals with tribal and band councils set up by the state are not consultation. When they are conducted in secret, as often happens, there is no possibility of popular consent. The U.S. and Canada have been encroaching on land even when there were no agreements or treaties to validate their intrusions. The Western Shoshone decision indicates that encroaching as a way to take over land has been formally rejected.
The Committee urged the U.S. to initiate a dialogue to work toward a solution acceptable to the Shoshone. The Committee implements the consultation and consent standard to make an agreement valid.
US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in USA v. Lara stated in his concurring decision that he could find no evidence that any Indigenous people had given up any of their land and sovereignty; that federal Indian laws are “schizophrenic”; and Indian affairs would be “chaotic” until this is dealt with. This is the first time a United Nations Committee has issued a full decision against the U.S. and “its highly controversial Federal Indian law and policy”.
This decision challenges the U.S. and Canadian theft of Indigenous title to all of Turtle Island. Kanion’ke:haka/Mohawks have not been allowed to use our land or even to traverse upon most of it. Our lands have been illegally taken for bridges, highways, seaway, railway lines, communities for the settlers, mines, extraction of our resources and mega developments without our permission. This is comparable to the imposition of fines, taxes, confiscation of sheep and putting mines on Western Shoshone property without their consent. States, mining companies, hydro developers and multinational corporations now have to get our permission to go on our land to set up their businesses.
The Committee has requested that the U.S. provide it with information on actions they are taking to implement their decision by 15 July 2006.
The University of Arizona Indigenous Law and Policy Program and Oxfam America, along with 13,000 signatures of U.S. supporters, helped the Western Shoshone file a new legal action at the United Nations CERD. (Contact Julie Fishel firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-468-0230 (US)).
The U.S. argued that their actions were not “novel”. As if we didn’t all know that! What is somewhat original is their resistance to the decolonization movement that everyone in the world is coming to terms with. One of the ironies of the situation is that the U.S. Declaration if Independence was an inspiration for much of the decolonization process that permeates the world. The U.S. has slipped from being a “leader of the pack” to being one of the “last lone laggards” charging off on imaginary crusades in ridiculous directions. Sadly, they are trampling a lot of ordinary and innocent people underfoot. They need to be exorcised them of their colonial ghosts.
Fortunately, the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was not duped by the U.S.’s colonial phantoms. The U.S. asked the Committee to wait for them to submit their ‘Periodic Report’ which has been past due since 2003. The Committee insisted on an immediate response. The U.S. didn’t even show up! We cannot expect fair dealing and straight play from the U.S. Maybe they will try to fool people and set up a UN Indigenous Affairs Department using the U.S. and Canadian Indian Affairs models. They will can hold all our land “in trust” so they can globally control us and our resources? Most likely they are looking for Indigenous leaders to co-opt.
How many times have we seen this before? Indigenous peoples have been active at the United Nations for several decades. This decision could promise hope to indigenous communities everywhere.
Kahentinetha Horn, MNN Mohawk Nation News, email@example.com (Coming soon. Get your daily Kanion’ke:haka news on mnn.mohawknationnews.com)