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Federal Government Reverses Land Deal with Shoshone-Paiute Tribes

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The federal government has retracted its decision to transfer land to the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, thwarting its off-reservation economic development plans to draw money to the isolated Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owyhee, Nevada, strapped with an unemployment rate of 40 percent among the 1,100 residents, reported the Associated Press.

On October 25, a federal judge ordered the transfer of 26 acres of land located just east of Boise, Idaho to the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, the AP reported. The tribes hoped to develop an off-reservation property, possibly with gaming, agriculture or light manufacturing. The land belonged to the heirs of a deceased Indian woman, Wallace Bruce Ogg. Talks began in 2009 about transfering a portion of the 80-acre parcel, known as "restricted fee land," to the tribes.

While documents reviewed by the AP show that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) regional director in Portland, Oregon, Stanley Speaks, approved the deal last year, his BIA agency's lawyers advised the judge that he should kill the deal, because, they argued, it violates federal law to approve such a transaction.

Thus, U.S. Department of Interior Chief Administrative Law Judge Earl Waits reversed Speaks' order on June 1.

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The broken promise has sparked mistrust in the BIA, reminiscent of the federal government not honoring Indian treaties. "It is precisely this kind of abusive conduct—in this case, informing a tribe they own certain lands and then purporting to reverse the decision—that has all too often been the hallmark of relations between the Bureau and Indian tribes," wrote Keith Harper, the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes' lawyer, in a July 15 letter to BIA director Larry EchoHawk seeking help, reported the AP.

"The actions of the BIA to this point paint an embarrassing picture of the government approving a land transfer to the tribe and then arbitrarily taking the land in violation of the regional director's word," Harper wrote.