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Creating effective partnerships between tribes and agencies

Greetings from your Shoshone-Paiute brothers and sisters. For those who
don't know -- we have been confined to the Duck Valley Indian Reservation
that is surrounded by the lands of Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. But we are
southwestern Idaho's Indians. We are northern Nevada's Indians. Just in
case you think we all went away somewhere else -- maybe to Hawaii or, worse
yet, in case you think we never existed at all. We are this land's
Aboriginal occupants.

We've done the best job we could to be left alone, locked up in one room of
the mansion our grandfathers and grandmothers once enjoyed. We've survived
by being livestock producers, just like many of our non-Indian neighbors.
We have much in common with them.

There is one major difference, however. We have special standing with the
United States. The U.S. Constitution identifies three sovereigns: the
federal government, the states and Indian tribes. The U.S. Supreme Court
held in the Marshall trilogy of decisions (ca. 1830 -- 1832) that we are
dependent sovereign nations.

The U.S. government is required by a number of mandates to consult with us.
It's not exactly the same kind of consultation that agencies use with the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.

Federal case law requires federal agencies to communicate with us and take
our views into account in a sincere, good faith effort, on a
government-to-government basis for any proposed undertaking or contemplated
action.

That's called special standing. It's taken a long time for this little
concept to sink in for federal agencies. Some agencies still don't get it.
Others have just taken a long time to get to it.

The aboriginal title to the land of southwestern Idaho has never been
properly ceded and conveyed. Despite the Boise Valley and the Bruneau
Valley treaties being signed by the chiefs of my people and by
representatives of the president of the United States, and the subsequent
moving of my people to an Indian reservation, those treaties were never
ratified by the United States Senate. You could say that the check bounced!

The solicitor general of the Department of Interior has issued an opinion
that aboriginal title has not been extinguished and remains with my people.

Now, before you reach for the antacids, we are not talking about the
private property rights of landowners: we simply want the aboriginal title
and compensation issue cleared up and the rights we were promised so long
ago.

Now, some will say: "Well, you lost the war. Get over it!"

But, think about this: Can you recount any war in which America prevailed
where we voided or confiscated private property title because their
vanquished government lost the war to us? America didn't do it in Germany
or Japan. Even in Russia, land title is being restored from before the time
of the Bolshevik Revolution.

A few years back, when my son Buster was around 11 or 12 and Bill Clinton
was president, a very lean Christmas came over our family. Buster decided
to write Santa Claus a letter requesting $50 so he could buy his family
some gifts. The post office didn't know where to deliver it, but our
postmaster in Owyhee decided to forward it on to the White House.

Well, Clinton read it and, being touched, took a five-dollar bill out of
his pocket and sent it along with a note proclaiming "Happy Holiday." Upon
opening the letter, Buster had a long face. I asked him why the disgusted
look. He said, "Isn't it just like the federal government? They had to skim
90 percent off of the $50 that Santa sent me, leaving me with five bucks!"

A far more efficient and rewarding relationship has been occurring between
us and the federal government: partnerships. We have been consulting with
some agencies on their undertakings. But, much more needs to be done. Ten
years ago we initiated a program called "Wings and Roots," a third party,
institutionalized, government-to-government process of consultation. It is
now used in a number of federal agencies and some other tribes. It has been
used to help turn consultation into partnerships -- truly spectacular
partnerships, too. And it is beginning to gain some national notoriety.

We have approached partnerships with federal agencies not simply because it
is the legal thing to do, nor do we do it simply because it is the right
thing to do. These agencies have approached partnerships because it is the
smart thing to do. I'd like to highlight a few of these agencies that have
made them work in our area.

With the help of tribal consultation through the Wings and Roots program,
it has been opportunity not for compensation, but for identification of our
grievances.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest
Service, Idaho Army National Guard and Air Guard all have made
extraordinary efforts to implement their Indian trust responsibility. I'd
like to personally thank them for being straight shooters.

These federal public servants have been in the trenches, going the extra
mile to understand the agency's trust responsibility by creating a
partnership and trust that breeds success. For example, the Idaho National
Guard has created a partnership for the co-management of the Orchard
Training Area that has functioned for almost six years. That partnership
will help to save the lives of our soldiers through better training
opportunities.

The Boise and Payette national forests have worked tirelessly to explore
ways to partner with the Shoshone-Paiute tribes and bring together all
forest users, and to respect and protect our sacred sites and traditional
cultural properties.

We work shoulder-to-shoulder with the BLM on a daily basis in the
management decisions of our aboriginal lands.

The Snake River office of the Fish and Wildlife Service is to be
complimented for also being vigilant, and for finding new and creative ways
to seek consensus and collaboration without the onerous burdens of
"one-size-fits-all" mandates. Often we have learned about other agencies'
plans through our consultation with the service.

We reach out to all sovereign entities and their collective constituents.
Just as we guided the way, across what you call the Snake River, saving
many of America's ancestors from starvation, we reach out to the federal
government now as a partner. Please attempt to understand us and our desire
to protect our cultural resources, and we will work to defend your heritage
as well. Let us work to ensure that we pass along that opportunity for
seven generations to follow.

Terry Gibson is chairman of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes.