Letters From the West

Idaho tribes say if anyone should get public land it’s them

Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Chairman Nathan Small speaks to the Idaho Legislature's Interim Committee on Federal Lands Monday.

Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Chairman Nathan Small speaks to the Idaho Legislature’s Interim Committee on Federal Lands Monday.

If anyone should get Idaho’s 32 million acres of public land, it should be the Indian tribes, tribal leaders said.

“If Congress is to transfer title to any lands they should transfer them to their original owners the Indian tribes,” said Helo Hancock, Legislative Director of Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

Representatives of three of Idaho’s Indian tribes testified Monday before the Idaho Legislature’s Federal Lands Interim Committee. Their clear message is that the tribes have treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather on these public lands and they don’t support transferring them to the state.

“The tribes unequivocally oppose this notion,” said Nathan Small, chairman of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

The federal lands are, Small said, to “protect that way of life and not to satisfy the few corporate or special interests.”

Under questioning, the tribal representatives said any transfer of federal land to state would bring legal challenges from the tribes. Treaties would either be in breach or have to be renegotiated.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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