Letters From the West

Shoshone leader says they will fight for their homeland

The people who want Idaho to demand the federal government transfer 32 million acres of public land to the state base their case on what they perceive as a promise by the federal government to dispose of all of its land like it did in Midwestern states in the 1800s.

The Boise Shoshone had more than a promise, they had a treaty – two, in fact. In the Fort Boise Treaty of 1864 and the Bruneau Treaty of 1866, the tribes said they would give up the land in exchange for the U.S. government taking care of them in trust and treating them as a sovereign nation.

Buster Gibson, 31, is the vice chairman of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of Duck Valley.

Buster Gibson, 31, is the vice chairman of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of Duck Valley.

But Congress never ratified those treaties. A defiant Buster Gibson, vice chairman of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of Duck Valley, told the Idaho Legislature’s Interim Committee on Public Lands Dec. 4 that southwest Idaho, northern Nevada and eastern Oregon are his people’s land.

“The tribes still maintain Indian title to these lands,” Gibson said. “We have never relinquished any of our rights in southwest Idaho.”

This Capitol confrontation shows, as western historian Patricia Limerick wrote, that the events of the 19th century that opened the American West to development didn’t end but are continually relived.

The Boise Shoshone’s removal from the Boise Valley was murderous and illegal even by the scant laws of the time. Some families eventually ended up on Fort Hall Indian Reservation. Others, like Gibson’s family, ended up on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation on the Nevada border.

Proponents of the land transfer say they will honor all Indian treaties, which the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, the Nez Perce Tribe and the Coeur d’Alene Tribes say would be violated if the transfer went through.

Gibson’s argument is simpler: the land the state lawmakers want is Shoshone land, not the federal government’s land to transfer.

“You have no right to take this land or manage it,” Gibson said.

The Boise Valley is their homeland. They want us to see it as a human rights issue, Gibson said. And they won’t stand still.

“We will fight you in federal court and the nation’s capitol,” said the new generation of a long line of tribal leaders.

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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Posted in Letters from the West