The efforts of the Western Shoshone to protect their native lands which, according to Earthworks/Oxfam, account for nearly 10% of the worlds gold production, or 64% of U.S. production is another ongoing mining struggle here in the U.S. The Western Shoshone ancestral territory includes some 60 million acres in southern Idaho, eastern Nevada, and the Mojave Desert of California.
The conflict began when the Western Shoshone people signed the Ruby Valley (NV) Treaty of Peace and Friendship with the U.S. government in 1863, a time when the federal government was in need of California gold to fund the Civil War. The Ruby Valley Treaty gave the U.S. right-of-way through Shoshone territory for stage lines and railroads, and allowed settlers to mine, ranch, cut timber, and extract other natural resources from Shoshone lands. The treaty also recognized the Western Shoshone people as the landowner, and entitled them to royalties for extractive activities. No royalties have ever been paid to the Shoshone people.
The Shoshone have tried for decades to convince the federal government to honor the treaty and pay the royalties due to them. In 1979, the U.S. government attempted to legislate a settlement that would void the treaty and award the Shoshone a one-time $26 million payment the equivalent of about 15 cents an acre for relinquishing the title to their land. The Shoshone did not accept the settlement, however, the U.S. government accepted the payment on their behalf. Today, the payment sits untouched in a trust. (1)
The Ruby Valley Treaty allows for mining on the scale employed in 1863, but in the current mining realities prospectors have been supplanted by large-scale corporate mining. (2)
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have urged the Canadian and U.S. governments to take action against these human rights violations against the Western Shoshone people. But the U.S. government continues to move forward with legislation for additional mining and new forms of extraction on these traditional lands. The Shoshone filed suit again in September 2003, demanding payment of the royalties owed under The Ruby Valley Treaty.
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