Before Anglo settlers arrived in present-day
Nevada, the Western Shoshone Indians occupied half of the state's
current land area. Now, most of the tribe's members live on tiny
reservations, many of them in poverty, even though a
congressionally approved land-claims settlement of $121 million has
been waiting for final Shoshone approval for 21
Two years ago, what Nevada Sen. Harry
Reid, D, called a majority of Western Shoshone members voted
1,230-53 to take the money, a move Reid saw as the tribe's approval
of the deal. This summer, he introduced the Western Shoshone Claims
Distribution Act, which would distribute the $121 million equally
among eligible tribal members.
"We have waited a
long time and gotten nothing," says Western Shoshone Claims
Committee co-chairman Larry Piffero. "Enough is enough." Piffero
says the tribe has only recently begun to take action because a
"silent majority" has decided to speak up. Piffero acknowledges
that the compensation is meager, but he says it will help: One out
of three tribal members doesn't have a job.
others contest the vote's legitimacy. "There are 5,000-6,000
Western Shoshones," says Christopher Sewall of the Western Shoshone
Defense Project, a coalition of tribal members and Anglo activists.
"How was that vote a majority?" Sewall says the vote was not
organized by the tribal councils, many of which object to taking
the money, but by a small group of Shoshones that had assistance
from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The payments wouldn't create
economic development opportunities for future generations of
Western Shoshones, he adds, and acceptance of the money would seal
off any chance for the tribe to reclaim its historic
The bottom line, says Sewall, is that
the one-time payment "is not going to change conditions here."
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Sen. Reid says he will do what he can
to push the bill through Congress this