"Wihi'nite Land Restoration Progect" informational meeting on Saturday, October 19.
By LORI ANN EDMO
FORT HALL — The Fort Hall Business Council authorized the creation of a small committee to work on a land restoration project in the area where the Virginia City Treaty in southwestern Montana was signed in 1868.
Referred to as the “Wihi’nite Land Restoration Project” – the committee conducted an information meeting October 19 at the Sho-Ban High cafeteria. Committee members include Jeanette Wolfley, tribal attorney, Darrell Shay, Brenda Honena and Leo Ariwite. Donna Honena was also listed but she explained she stepped down because she didn’t have time to commit. It was noted there was no Bannock representation so Donna said someone should be appointed in her place but would like to see a younger person.
Shay said he was elected chairman of the committee and their meetings are open. He provided historical information. He said committee members are Agai Deka descendants.
According to the FHBC resolution, the Mixed band of Shoshones, Bannocks and Sheepeaters, along with United States entered into the Virginia City Treaty of September 24, 1868 to cede lands to the United States in the present day states of southwestern Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The treaty was unratified so it did not extinguish the aboriginal title held by the Mixed Bands of Shoshones, Bannocks and Sheepeaters.
The Tribes filed numerous claims before the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) in Docket 326 but the claims didn’t include the Virginia City Treaty area and the ICC decision limited its finding to the Salmon area in Idaho.
Shay said they need more formal ethnographic studies to be conducted. He talked about the stories his grandmother shared about the area. Concerning activities relating to potential land claims from 2010 to 2018, there are reports the Greg Smoak of the American West Center did in 2011 and one done in 2010 that Orlan Svingen did from Washington State University. There has also been meetings and communications with federal agencies, strategy and planning.
When asked if the reports could be available to tribal members to read, Jeanette Wolfley, tribal attorney said the reports were what the attorney’s office commissioned in preparation for litigation so that are considered confidential. She was asked to work on the land claim in 2012 during the time of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes versus Salazar case regarding mismanagement. She was asked to put an exception into the clause so it didn’t impact the land claims in southeast Montana. When pursuing the land claim the Tribes decided to do the legislative option. First the Tribes needed to show or demonstrate they have aboriginal title – entering into the 1868 treaty but it was never ratified. The next issue is whether the U.S. distinguished the title. There was never an act Congress passed and there was never any conquest.
Wolfley said they met with Kevin Washburn – the previous Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs – in Washington D.C. The council has been meeting with different federal agencies such as the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service and they’ve all supported the claims administratively. The concern is meeting with the local community members in the area. In November, they meet with Tara Sweeney, the new Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs. They’re working on federal legislation with the Mapetsi group regarding the land claim because the Tribes have never been compensated. Currently they’ve been advised it is not a good time to submit the legislation so will wait.
The committee is advisory to the council and they will be doing a strategic plan. In addition will be advising the council what groups to meet with. They have a lot of ideas administratively on what could happen, Wolfley continued. The second piece of legislation sets out specific areas of land, small area where perhaps a cultural center could be built or a youth camp to educate people.
Committee member Leo Ariwite said they’ve started meeting with specific groups such as county commissioners, they started the Virginia City Gathering and started meeting with ranching families with many sharing history involving their grandparents who remember Chief Tendoy. Rancher John Anderson noted he has a buffalo jump on his property where tribal members were able to visit. They want to continue to get the support of the community. Leo said a documentary “In Good Faith,” has been completed that will be shown in Twin Falls November 2 and also at the Sun Valley Film Festival. He encouraged everyone to keep an open mind. It can be located at https://vimeo.com/osvingen/ingoodfaith.
Ariwite encouraged people to share their family histories.
Brenda Honena said the council resolution was approved in June and they’ve had a couple of meetings since then. They meet every second Friday of each month in the Tribal Attorney library and anyone is invited to attend. The committee also plans to go to district meetings to share the information.
When asked the difference between the Wihi’nite committee and the work tribal technical staff does, Shay said the committee is providing assistance to the council. They received a $75,000 budget for three years ($25,000) per year to be used for travel to Montana and Wyoming. They will abide by the Tribes travel regulations. Committee members don’t get paid and are volunteer. He said there’s a need for more signage and information kiosks in the southwest Montana area.
Nolan Brown, Tribal Original Territories staff researcher, asked whether is advising technical staff on signage and who will they be meeting with? Shay replied the committee is open, they’re not representing the Tribes and they’re not intruding on the council.
Louise E. Dixey said she appreciated the clarified information Salazar but she believes the council needs to identify what they want the departments to facilitate and what needs to be done.
Marvin Osborne said when he looks at the map that was handed out, it’s huge and it may be an uphill battle because the white people aren’t going to give up the land.
Shay replied they are asking the federal government to address it and they don’t know how successful they will be.
Marina Fasthorse said she attended the meeting out of curiosity but it is a major thing. She believes just a handful of people are having a say and she wants to know more about it’s origins. She would like to see a bigger effort in getting people involved. She’s half Paiute and Bannock and doesn’t think it’s fair just a few people are on the committee. She would like to be involved. She would like to see another meeting be scheduled so more people can be informed.
Shay said they may present at the Annual Meeting but they do plan to put more information out. He said the staff is open to attend their meetings.
Rozina George said it’s been going on a long time and she supports the effort. She’s grateful the individuals are doing something. It’s a different issue from the Culture Committee but is very important.
Emaline George spoke in Shoshone and English. She talked about the advice of the elders. They asked for Chief Tendoy’s pipe and headdress but didn’t get it. Prayers were said to return there. She said the committee needs a Bannock on it but believes everyone needs to work together because were a rich people because of tribal teachings. All of those areas need to be checked – every root, every tree because one day we are going to need it and stand by the knowledge of the country. Our chiefs were strong even though they couldn’t’ speak English.
Zelphia Towersap said well educated people need to be involved. She talked about how the Camas Prairie was misinterpreted to Kansas Prairie and at that time no one knew how to correct it. She said we are still blundering around because this group doesn’t like certain people. She asked how long is it going to take because time is of the essence.
Yvette Tuell spoke as a tribal member as she’s been a part of the conversation as an employee and tries to be respectful. She believes it is a good thing – tribal members need to understand there is a wrong and they are trying to right it. The problem is as they go through the process, people get lost in the journey to the goals and are allowing personalities, difference of opinion to get off track. Whether the Tribes is getting land or monetary compensation to the goal is to remedy it. “We need to work together and gain support of the project but are starting to hear self imposed barriers – need to overcome that,” she said.
She believes the hoarding of information in the tribal attorney’s office is not a good thing. There’s a wealth of tribal information located there – it’s not about litigation and we have to support tribal history. At some point the Tribes need to let the information out of the tribal attorney’s office so the tribal members can understand why it’s important. She’s watched individuals going out and sharing history to non-Indians. She said the committee has an extraordinary responsibility to respond to the tribal people. Tuell said she gave a list of concerns to the committee from tribal staff and still hasn’t received a response. She noted it is a good project but they need to get the support of tribal members – be open to concerns and suggestions. She urged they created the proposal that would be beneficial to the Tribes and not just their family. She offered her support and meant no offense.
Donna Honena said Emaline spoke the truth and how knowing history is important. She stepped off the committee because of her schedule but said the (historical) chiefs are here and they are watching.
Bobette Haskett said the staff work for the tribal members. The issue is important and she plans to attend the committee’s meetings.
Adeline Matsaw said she’s thankful for the people doing the work and to continue to work with educated people and the tribal elders.
Doyle Punkin gave a prayer to close the meeting.