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Newcomb: The plot thickens in the Western Shoshone saga

In his speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 23, President Bush declared: "We are dedicated to the defense of our collective security, and to the advance of human rights." Well, try telling that to the traditional Western Shoshone Indians, considering how, for decades, the United States has been violating their human rights, as recently confirmed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Elsewhere in his address, Bush said: "The founding documents of the United Nations and the founding documents of America stand in the same tradition. Both assert that human beings should never be reduced to objects of power or commerce because their dignity is inherent."

The President went on to speak of "a moral law that stands above men and nations which must be defended by men and nations." The founding documents of the UN and of the U.S., said Bush, "both point the way to peace, the peace that comes when all are free."

Because President Bush was making these remarks in a global context, we ought to direct them back at the Bush administration in light of the U.S.'s treatment of the traditional Western Shoshone Indians in what is now regarded as Nevada. If, in Bush's view, "peace comes when all are free" wouldn't it be great if it were his ardent desire to apply this principle to the Western Shoshones, so that they can be free to live undisturbed on their ancestral lands? The United States of America has a treaty of peace and friendship with the Western Shoshone Nation that was made in 1863. So why isn't the Bush administration willing to uphold and enforce the Treaty of Ruby Valley as being part of "the supreme Law of the land" as stated in the U.S. Constitution?

One answer appears to be "gold," and lots of it. One estimate places the amount of gold taken from Western Shoshone lands to date at $26 billion. (To give a sense of perspective, Congress is now poised to pass a bill that will force a "payment" on the Western Shoshones for some $142 million dollars. The original pre-interest amount was a mere $26.1 million for land and minerals. Only some $11 million is said to be for roughly 24 million acres of land, and the balance is for minerals taken prior to July 1, 1872. Not considering minerals, the land averages out to about .15 cents an acre). Unfortunately, it would appear that the Bush administration and Congress are perfectly willing to toss the Western Shoshone treaty aside because of the billions of dollars in gold and other valuable resources in Western Shoshone lands.

Previously this column has documented Senator Harry Reid's family ties to some of the most powerful lobbying firms in Nevada and Washington, D.C., as well as their connections with powerful mining companies. But based on additional findings, comes the realization that the peaceful and non-violent traditional Western Shoshones are up against some of the most powerful political and corporate interests on the planet. This is evidently why the moral principles that the president is willing to invoke when it comes to Iraq and, say, Afghanistan, are thrown by the wayside when it comes to the Western Shoshones.

In the early 1990s, during the presidential administration of George H. W. Bush, a Bush appointee, BLM chief Delos Cy Jamison, favorably expedited the gold mining claims of the Barrick Gold Strike Mines, Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of the Barrick Gold Corporation, based in Toronto, Canada. The claims, for 1,444 acres of Western Shoshone land "in Nevada," were made between March and April of 1992. These lands, situated within the Western Shoshone treaty boundaries, contained an estimated $10 billion in gold. Barrick Gold, now said to be the third largest gold mining company in the world, acquired the rights to the land for slightly less than $10,000 at $5.00 an acre.

Ironically, in May 1995, Barrick Gold announced a new international advisory board under the leadership of former President George Bush. The former president worked as a lobbyist and advisor for the Barrick Gold Corporation until 1999.

Just to give readers an additional idea of the lobbying power that the Western Shoshones are up against, the Newmont mining company, based in Denver, Colorado - which is the single largest gold mining company in the world - also has a huge stake in the gold deposits located in Western Shoshone lands.

Importantly, the mining industry now has direct ties to the Department of the Interior through Bush appointee, Deputy Secretary of Interior Steven Griles. Before his appointment Griles was a lobbyist with national environmental strategies, and the National Mining Association (NMA), a mining industry trade group. (Griles previously served under Secretary of Interior Watt during the Reagan administration). Griles' calendar shows that on Aug. 7, 2001, he met with Mr. Nils Johnson, a lobbyist for the Placer Dome and Newmont Mining companies. On Oct. 24, 2001, and Nov. 6, 2001, Griles met with members of the Interior Dept.'s Solicitor's office regarding the Western Shoshone "trespass" issue. In May of 2002 the BLM began its armed crackdown on the Western Shoshones, beginning with its theft of cattle belonging to Myron Tybo and Western Shoshone National Council Chief Raymond Yowell. (The Griles calendar was obtained through a Freedom of Information request by Citizen's Coal Council and Friends of the Earth.)

The current president of the National Mining Association is Mr. Jack Gerard. This is the same Jack Gerard who was a founding member and partner in the firm McClure (a former U.S. Senator, and Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee), Gerard & Neunschwander, for whom Senator Harry Reid's son Rory Reid, and son-in-law Steven Berringer, work as lobbyists. (It was a representative of this same firm that met with Deputy Secretary of Interior Griles in August 2001). Gerard was also part of the Bush Energy Transition Team (the Bush-Cheney Energy Plan), no doubt giving him considerable access to the White House.

When it comes to the billions and billions of dollars that are at stake in the Western Shoshone lands, and the powerful corporate interests involved, partisan politics get set aside so that a Democrat Senator's son-in-law ends up aligned with a staunch Republican and mining advocate such as Gerard, and Democrat Senator Reid becomes aligned with Republican Congressman Jim Gibbons.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the mining industry "gave $6.5 million dollars to political parties and congressional candidates, 86 percent of it to Republicans" during the 2000 election.

In the approved biography of Barrick founder Peter Munk, we find an explanation of the kind of clout such corporations wield in Congress: "For much of 1993, [Munk] spent a lot of time in the District of Columbia ... lobbying. At that stage Brian Mulrony, Canada's former prime minister, had just joined the Barrick board and he immediately went down to Washington to establish contact with key senators, using his close relationship with George Bush [senior] to good advantage."

When we put all these pieces together, is it any wonder that the Bush administration's Department of Interior (through the Bureau of Land Management) has come down hard on the traditional Western Shoshones with armed agents?

Is it any wonder that no senator on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs made a single effort to stop Senator Reid's Western Shoshone bill (S-618), not even the American Indian senator from Colorado?

Is it any wonder that - after some reported last minute lobbying from Senator Reid's office - the House Committee on Resources allowed Congressman Gibbons's version of the Western Shoshone bill to leave the Committee after the September 24th mark-up session with a vote of 14 (against) to 21 (for)? Despite the support of a number of Congressmen, the traditional Western Shoshones didn't stand a chance in the mark-up session given the political and economic might marshaled against them.

Clearly, the traditional Western Shoshone Indians are being dehumanized, manipulated, and treated as "objects" subject to the whim of "power and commerce," to use President Bush's words before the UN. Courageously, the Western Shoshones continue to stand on their ancestral lands with strong hearts, but considering the incredibly powerful forces arrayed against them, they are nearly defenseless. This is why the Western Shoshone deserve the continued support of all who truly believe in human dignity, human rights, and the right of all indigenous nations and peoples to be free.

Steven Newcomb, Shawnee and Lenape, is director of the Indigenous Law Institute, Indigenous law research coordinator at D-Q University at Sycuan, on the Reservation of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, and a columnist for Indian Country Today.