Great Basin belongs to all of us

  Dear HCN,

Michelle Nijhuis was mistaken when she wrote that the recent transfer of some Death Valley National Park land to the Timbisha Shoshone "was the first time the Park Service had ever ceded land to a tribe" (HCN, 8/5/02:Another way to win back the land). In 1975, about one-third of Grand Canyon National Park's South Rim was ceded to the Havasupai tribe. Today, about 80 percent of the 277-mile-long canyon's south side is privately owned by the Hualapai, Havasupai and Navajo peoples.

A few years ago, the Navajo unsuccessfully tried to appropriate part of the Grand Canyon's north side as well (the House Rock Valley). In addition, the tribes control access to large areas of the park itself. In 1999, the Havasupai set up a roadblock and began charging park visitors stiff tolls.

Nijhuis was also misleading in writing that much of the Great Basin is "now owned by the federal government." Most of the Great Basin is public land, not government land. There's a big difference. Government lands, which make up about 2 percent of the West, are fenced off with threatening signs like: "U.S. Government Property; Trespassers Subject to Arrest." By contrast, the public lands, which make up about 50 percent of the West, are open to everyone and owned by all of us - the Western Shoshone included.

Dennis BrownridgeMayer, Arizona