Senator Cortez-Masto’s new bill isn’t good for all tribes

Len George

Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribal Chariman Len George’s response to the proposed Fallon expansion

Len George

Tribal Chairman of the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe

Last week, Senator Cortez Masto rolled out legislation directly related to our community, our culture, our livelihood, and our future.

The bill, the Northern Nevada Rural Land Management, Conservation, and Military Readiness Act, plans on quadrupling the size of the Naval Air Station Fallon so that it authorizes bombing or other military training on more than 800,000 acres of our ancestral lands.

These are the lands where we have hunted, prayed, and sought medicine for more than 10,000 years. With the legislation, the Senator published a piece in the Nevada Appeal touting this draft bill as a great success, and stated that it “prioritized ... tribal governments seeking assistance, economic investment, and compensation from both the federal government and the military.”

A few days later, the Chairwoman of the Walker River Paiute Tribe signed an opinion piece here, in Indian Country Today, entitled Nevada land proposal includes tribal voices.

We fully support compensation to the Walker River Tribe for the tragic harm to their lands caused by the Navy. However, compensation for past harms is an independent and distinct issue from the expansion of the Navy base.

The Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe and other Great Basin tribes steadfastly oppose the expansion of NAS Fallon.

Resolutions passed by the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada and the National Congress of American Indians passed prior to the Senator’s bill, also have stated opposition to the Navy’s expansion efforts.

It is fair to say that through the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada and the National Congress of American Indians, tribes across the United States have opposed Navy expansion.

Our core concern is that the Senator’s bill gives the Navy nearly everything it asked for, allows military training on our lands, and would deprive us of access to our lands.

This is very personal for us. The Fallon Paiute Shoshone people were born on Fox Peak. We lived for thousands of years in and around Carson Sink, the Stillwater Mountains, Dixie Valley, and the Dead Camels. This bill would take away our home.

We need our homelands to remain public and protected so that we can continue our way of life, our culture, and our religion.

Since 2016, the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe and other tribes in the area have been advocating for ourselves to ensure the protection of our cultural sites and access to our land.

We have done everything asked of us. We’ve submitted rounds of comments, attended meeting after meeting, made call after call, drafted compromise legislation that would have authorized the renewal of the existing large base without expansion, and even gave Navy leaders a personal tour of our lands and an explanation of why they are so important.

We have made good-faith efforts to work with all stakeholders and trusted in the public process. There have even been bipartisan bills out of both the House and Senate providing for the renewal of the existing base with no expansion.

It is hard to see how slipping in last-minute legislation with nearly full expansion prioritizes the public interest and all tribal interests.

While we support Chairwoman Torres and the Walker River Tribe, we will continue to fight for a resolution that truly protects ancestral lands and our tribal heritage, and thereby advances all of our tribes’ interests.

Len George was raised and lives in Fallon Nevada. He prides himself in the history of his people, their ways, culture, land and water. A graduate of Churchill County High School, he was elected as the Tribal Chairman of the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe in 2002 and continues to lead our tribe into the future.

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