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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 00:17 GMT 01:17 UK
Native Americans seek UN help
Western Shoshone tribe elders (l-r) Maurice Frank-Churchill, Carrie Dann and Johnnie Bobb
The tribe say their human rights are under threat
By Emma Jane Kirby in Geneva

An American Indian tribe from Nevada, which is launching legal action against the United States Government for allegedly discriminating against it, has begun rallying support from the United Nations Human Rights bodies.

Two years ago, the Western Shoshone tribe charged the US authorities at the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination with attempting to chase it off its ancestral territory.


They treat us like animals or children

Carrie Dann, tribe elder

Now, tribe elders have come to Geneva to put in personal pleas at the UN European Headquarters in the hope that a UN panel will condemn the US action as being in violation of human rights treaties.

At issue is the basic question of land access.

Culturally important

The people of the Western Shoshone tribe who are indigenous and who number around 6,600, live mainly in central Nevada and parts of California, Idaho and Utah.

The tribe claims its identity, culture and economy are tied into the land, and object to the federal government using the area for gold mining and for military training.

In 1863, the so-called Treaty of Ruby Valley was signed between the Western Shoshone and the US, which took 23.6m acres of land away from the tribe.

Tribal leaders argue that the treaty - which they say was one of friendship - simply granted the US limited access to the land, and did not concede it to the federal government.

Private development

But the government argue they have bought the land, and are now effectively the trustees, meaning the Western Shoshone's ancestral rights to it have been extinguished.

Carrie Dann, Shoshone tribal elder
Carrie Dann: "The government treat us like animals"
Now the Shoshone says it faces prosecution for living on its own lands, as the federal authorities want to sell the area to private development companies.

"They [the US Government] treat us like animals or children," says Western Shoshone leader Carrie Dann.

"All I want is to ask the United States to sit down with us at a table and to talk the matter through. At the moment we don't have a voice - they have no respect for our human dignity," said Ms Dann.

Compensation

The US Government has offered a substantial subsequent compensation package for Western Shoshone land but Carrie Dann says most of the tribe does not want to accept such a deal because it never agreed to sell.

Speaking before the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, she said: "We have never left the land."

"In many areas, as far as the eye can see there are only Western Shoshone. I, as a traditional person, will never accept any money for our mother earth. I will not accept money for our religious beliefs," she said.

She finished her address by thanking the commission for "listening to this little old lady."

Land 'rape'

Western Shoshone National Council member Johnnie Bobb also called upon the commission to step in against the US, which he claimed was "raping" the land through excessive gold mining.

"The US Government plan to burn our lands. These burn areas also contain burials, scared areas, medicine plants, food plants, animals and petroglyphs. They don't know how to care for our lands."

Mr Bobb said he was appealing to the international community to recognise the Western Shoshone's right to maintain its lands and culture.

On Monday the US responded to questions from a UN panel about the Shoshone case, but said it needed more time to assess the complexities of the issues.

The committee is likely to make a recommendation on the case within the next couple of weeks.

See also:

15 Jan 00 | Americas
Native Americans regain land
08 Jul 99 | Americas
Clinton highlights Indian plight
21 Jul 99 | Americas
Native Indians put heads together
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