On behalf of our land
Editor's note: The following statement was given by Mary McCloud, a Western Shoshone elder at a Jan. 17 press conference in support of the Nevada Clean Energy Campaign.
My name is Mary McCloud. I am a Western Shoshone, a grandmother, great grandmother, and advisory board member of the Western Shoshone Defense Project. I'm writing to speak on our behalf, in an effort to help protect our treaty territory, an effort which has been a long ongoing struggle. I am writing based on the history of our struggle, which I stand on.
In 1863, the United States federal government entered into a treaty with the Western Shoshone Nation regarding our lands. This is recognized as the Treaty of Ruby Valley. It was not a treaty of cession to the United States.
Now I will mention some parts of United States law the Western Shoshones referred to when they rejected the Indian Claims Commission monetary award. The 1787 Northwest Ordinance states in part that ''The utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians, their lands and property shall never be taken without their consent.'' This means that our Western Shoshone lands and property shall never be taken from us without our permission, which, to this day, we have never given to the United States.
In the 1861 Nevada Territorial Act, the U.S. Congress referenced this part of the spirit and the letter of the Northwest Ordinance by stipulating ''That nothing in this act contained shall be construed to impair the rights of person or property now pertaining to the Indians in said Territory, so long as such rights shall remain unextinguished by treaty between the United States and such Indians.'' The Nevada Territorial Act further states that ''all such [Indian] territory shall be excepted out of the boundaries and constitute no part of the Territory of Nevada ...''
This means that the territory of Nevada never included rights of person or property pertaining to the Western Shoshone, so long as such rights remained unextinguished by treaty between the United States and the Western Shoshone. In connection with this, to this day there is no treaty whereby we Western Shoshones have ever allowed our lands to become part of any state or territory of the United States as specified by the Nevada territorial act. And, as I stated previously, the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley did not cede our Western Shoshone lands to the United States.
The Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946 was passed by Congress to pay a monetary award to any Indian nation whose lands were wrongfully taken by the United States. Western Shoshone lands were never taken by the United States. This is why our lands and land rights should never have been made part the Indian Claims Commission process to begin with. The Indian Claims Commission found no specific historical evidence that the Western Shoshone lands were taken by the United States or others after the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. Besides, by the terms of the Northwest Ordinance and the Nevada territorial act, Congress forbade such a taking of Western Shoshone lands. This is an issue that neither the Indian Claims Commission nor the Supreme Court ever addressed.
Also, according to the Indian Claims Commission Act, the Commission was required by law to file a final report to Congress as mandated. This was part of finalizing each Indian nation's claim against the United States. However, the Indian Claims Commission did not submit a final report to Congress in the Western Shoshone case, because the case was still ongoing on appeal before the Court of Claims at the time that the Indian Claims Commission went out of existence in 1978.
The Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Dann rests on an assumption that the United States, acting as trustee for the Western Shoshone, was able to pay itself for Western Shoshone lands, and that this constitutes payment to the Western Shoshone for their lands. The Supreme Court certified the fiction as a reality. The Supreme Court never ruled on title to Western Shoshone lands.
In conclusion, I want to state that we the Western Shoshone are still the original and rightful owners of our national lands as described in Article Five of the Western Shoshone Treaty of Ruby Valley. I bring this up so that you might understand where we are coming from. Based upon what I have mentioned, most of the land in Nevada has been under assault by coal plants, gas, oil, mining, drillers and other people whose actions are drying out our cold and hot springs, and our vast underground aquifers, and destroying our mountains, plants, food and water. As I've mentioned, we have been in a very long struggle to have our rights recognized and stop dirty energy projects and other projects and destructions which violate our spiritual ways and teachings.
We are pleased that the Nevada Clean Energy Campaign coalition has been formed, and we will work with the concerned citizens. We Western Shoshones need the help of all the people out there to get this job done, to respect and protect our land, air, water and sun for the generations to come in order to bring this country back to the pristine land it once was and that our ancestors experienced. We also need to stop Yucca Mountain, which is in the Western Shoshone territory, from being used as a nuclear waste repository.
I'm hoping that the presidential candidates will hear my voice and the voices of the indigenous peoples and others who are concerned about this country, and the North American continent. According to the U.S. Constitution, the Treaty of Ruby Valley is, like all other treaties made under the authority of the Constitution, the ''Supreme Law of the Land.'' Every U.S. president swears to protect and defend the Constitution by upholding the rule of law, and, from a Western Shoshone point of view, this includes upholding the Treaty of Ruby Valley.
I wish you all a blessed life.
Mary McCloud, Western Shoshone, is an advisory board member of the Western Shoshone Defense Project.