WASHINGTON - Late in the legislative day on June 21, the Western Shoshone
Distribution Bill passed the House of Representatives by a voice vote. The
bill, long resisted by many members of the Western Shoshone but also
considered acceptable by some, is now poised to become law upon the
signature of President George W. Bush.
An identical companion bill, S. 618, had previously passed the Senate by
unanimous consent. The House bill is H.R. 884.
The new law would distribute $135 million to individual Western Shoshone as
settlement for violations of the Ruby Valley Treaty of 1863. The settlement
would cover some 24 million acres in Nevada, Utah, California and Idaho.
Most of the land at issue is now classified as public land, though vocal
factions of the Western Shoshone maintain their title is intact. Under H.R.
884/S. 618, individual Western Shoshone members could agree to accept their
share of the settlement. But the bill's forced distribution of the Indian
Claims Commission settlement would extinguish title claims to the land.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., an outspoken foe of distribution, regards the
distribution bill as a deliberate seizure of resources, according to
Natalie Luna, a spokesperson on his House Resources Committee staff.
Many Western Shoshone members and their allies agree, noting that gold,
water and geothermal energy wait to be tapped within the Ruby Valley Treaty
lands. The nation's designated nuclear waste repository, at Yucca Mountain,
is also located on treaty lands. Nevada Reps. James Gibbon and Harry Reid,
a Republican and a Democrat respectively, have worked both sides of the
aisle to get the bill passed. Both are among the leading recipients in
Congress of mining company contributions. Gibbons co-sponsored the
legislation in the House along with Jon Porter, also a Nevada Republican.
As vice-chair of the House Resources Committee, Gibbons has also brought
forward bills that would "privatize" some of the treaty lands, a necessary
step for the exploitation of its resources.
According to opponents of the bill, Jennifer Farley in the Bush White House
informed congressional leadership that the bill is "hot." The bill's
passage on June 21 coincided with a visit by Vice President Richard Cheney
to Nevada, where he credited the Bush administration with improving
employment numbers in the state. Bush himself visited Nevada the previous
week. Nevada is projected to be one of the most important and
tightly-contested states in the upcoming presidential election. Farley
could not be immediately reached for comment.