U.S. Policy in Western Shoshone Country Since 1863

artwork by Johnnie L. Bobb, Western Shoshone from Yomba, Nevada

"Circle of Life," artwork by Johnnie L. Bobb, Western Shoshone from Yomba, Nevada.
The Circle of Life depicts the life-giving tree, the Pinyon, the Choke Cherry, and the Juniper Cedar.

photo of open-pit goldmine


It is the religious belief of the Western Shoshone that the earth is most sacred, this includes everything in it, upon it and above it.

Therefore: it is the solemn duty of the Western Shoshone to protect Mother Earth from all forms of environmental destruction exemplified by open pit mining, atomic testing, storage of nuclear waste, all forms of military testing and the pollution of the ground, air and water. The continuing depletion and desecration of natural resources severely threatens the livelihood of generations of all life on Mother Earth.

In the beginning of time, Ah-peh (Father), created the human beings (Newe) now called Shoshone. The Shoshone lived upon Mother Earth according to the laws given to them by Ah-peh, in harmony with the world and it's creatures. Sciences of astronomy, medicine, agriculture, and government were developed. We had extensive trade routes and large trade centers at a time prior to any kind of European human development. The ancient laws, our religion and culture were enjoyed unhindered with true freedom for many eons of time.

Our lands were greater than what history has attributed to us, and our people numbered in the tens of thousands.

Our first contact with non-Indian invaders was in 1680 and culminated in the first defeat for the Spanish in the new world . By the 1840's all Spanish incursions into Shoshone territory had been expelled. During this time other major world powers were vying for our territory: Russia, Great Britain, France, Canada, and the United States.

We steadfastly maintained our sovereign territorial integrity through 250 years of warfare, which led to the expulsion of all foreign powers and ending our conflict with the United States by means of the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley, a "Treaty of Peace and Friendship."

Disregarding Western Shoshone traditional land use, the United States immediately encouraged its citizens to enter our territory and claim all lands. We, trying earnestly to live up to the Treaty, have faced every form of adversity, degradation, and misery known to mankind. To this day we have kept our word and have never violated the Treaty of Ruby Valley.

From time immemorial, the Western Shoshone National Council is the traditional legal government of the Western Shoshone Nation. Today's Council, as in the past, remains dedicated to the protection of the Western Shoshone and their fundamental rights as an independent nation and as a separate and distinct people.

symbol of the Western Shoshone National Council

seal of the Western Shoshone Nation

The home of the Western Shoshone Nation is primarily in the Great Basin area of Western North America and includes portions of the states of Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Nevada, and California. The area is a land of mountains, meadows, high and low deserts, alkali flats, lakes and streams, springs and seeps, Sage Brush, Juniper and Pinyon Pine, deer, elk, pronghorn, antelope, fishes, upland game, and migratory water fowl. Most of all, the Western Shoshone Nation contains the richest known mineral deposits in the world. [See map below.]


The Council is currently involved in legal actions to maintain title to Western Shoshone ancestral lards as recognized by the United States of America in the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley) and to protect our homeland and sacred sites against aggressive invasion and destruction caused by ruthless mining companies that have illegally obtained permits from the United States Department of the Interior to mine for gold in an area of hundreds of thousands of acres. The land that is the subject of these lawsuits is within the ancestral territories of the Western Shoshone Nation. The Western Shoshone people (Newe) have always lived in and have never relinquished their fundamental relationship to these territories. The Council's decision to intervene is based on its responsibility for exercising the people's inherent rights to self determination and self government in accordance with the laws and instructions given to the people by the Ah-peh (Father). Mining company activities are causing extensive destruction to Western Shoshone range-land, interfering with life and livelihood, damaging sacred springs and other spiritually significant sites, and otherwise disrupting the relationship of the Western Shoshone people to Mother Earth. [See photo of mine above.]


The Western Shoshone have filed documents in U.S. Courts that present a concise analysis and critique of the so-called "U.S. Federal Plenary Power over Indians[*I]," raising sharply for the first time in a United States court proceeding a wholesale rejection of the structure and doctrine of U.S. Federal "Trusteeship" asserted over American Indians. This is significant because it brings to light the outdated theory underlying this body of law which, because it originated in an era of racial discrimination, seriously offends contemporary values and is unacceptable in a moral society.

The government of the United States asserts that it has "Plenary Power" and "Trusteeship" over the Western Shoshone. From the U.S. Government's perspective, this means that they can wield unlimited administrative control over the Western Shoshone people and their land. This policy is destroying Western Shoshone language, culture and traditions. The U.S. government maintains that the Western Shoshone territory was taken [*2] and that they have set aside monies to compensate the people. However, at no time have the Western Shoshone relinquished title to our lands nor indicated a willingness to do so and have steadfastly refused any payment of claims on the territory.

It is important that the general public come to understand that the foundation cases of U.S. Federal Indian Law are explicitly grounded in supremacist principles decreed by Popes and Kings in the Fifteenth Century. In 1855, Henry Wheaton, a reporter for the U.S. Supreme Court, elaborated these concepts in this way:

"... The heathen nations of the other quarters of the globe were the lawful spoil and prey of their civilized conquerors, and as between the Christian Powers themselves, the sovereign pontiff was the supreme arbiter of conflicting claims.... it thus became a maxim of policy and of law, that the right of the native Indians was subordinate to that of the first Christian discoverer...." [Henry Wheaton, Elements of international Law 219, 220 (1855)].

This unjust posture of Christian right and might colors the U.S. Government's dealings with Native Americans to this day and is used to justify the ongoing theft of land and natural resources in the Western Shoshone traditional homeland.

The Western Shoshone Nation argues that this principle, which has carried forward through case law as the foundation for federal power over native peoples of this continent, is nowhere sanctioned in the United States Constitution and is wholly contradictory to basic principles of human rights declared by international law. It is time that courts of the United States summon the moral fortitude to distinguish this era from those preceding it, to recognize the rights and traditional land interests of Native Americans.


In Canada and in Australia, countries which were "discovered" and conquered under similar imperial attitudes as the United States, the laws pertaining to the land rights of aboriginal or first nation peoples are beginning to change. Nation States have come to a turning point, but ultimately change requires that those in power begin to reverse the colonial process. This involves the fundamental examination of the underpinnings of a legal society, as can be seen from the following excerpt from an Australian Supreme Court decision

(1992) 175 CLR I F.C. 92/014

"#28. According to the cases, the common law itself took from indigenous inhabitants any right to occupy their traditional land, exposed them to deprivation of the religious, cultural and economic sustenance which the land provides, vested the land effectively in the control of the imperial authorities without any right to compensation and made the indigenous inhabitants intruders in their own homes and mendicants for a place to live. Judged by any civilized standard, such a law is unjust and its claim to be part of Common Law to be applied in contemporary Australia must be questioned."

Perhaps some day the Supreme Court of the United States might adopt such enlightened thinking. However, the Western Shoshone cannot afford to wait for non-native America to begin to redress the violation of human rights that began hundreds of years ago and continues unchecked to this day. Mother Earth, our sacred places, our very lives and the future of our people cannot wait for the U.S. government to cease issuing permits to mining companies that strip the lands and poison the water.



*1: Plenary, Full, entire, complete, absolute, perfect, unqualified. Mashunkashey v. Mashunkashey , 191 Okl. 501, 134 P.2d 976, 979. Plenary Power. Authority and power as broad as is required in a given case. Manifest destiny. Derived from Christian Popes and Kings of the 1500's, it was determined that natives of the world are as animals and therefore have no human rights. This position held by the Christian World gave them the divine right to conquer Native Peoples. Under U.S. law, Native Americans have no rights. The United States can do whatever it wants with Native Americans, unchecked.

*2: The Westerm Shoshone Nation has never been defeated by an act of war, never ceded, abandoned, or sold its land. These are the only legal means that the U.S. can obtain any lands.


We are locked in a serious continued struggle to defend our rights and the rights of others throughout our national territory. We continue to protect our sacred, historical, and life sites and to defend areas that are ecologically sensitive and, as always, pledge to resist at all cost the U.S. government's big business and military contamination and destruction of Mother Earth.

We are at a dire, critical time in our history and that of Mother Earth.

We are asking our friends and supporters to contribute to our cause. Without your support, the struggle will not be as effective.




Food, warm clothing, boots, medical supplies, postage stamps, computers and laptops, printers, scanners, copiers, computer paper, copy paper, inter-com, hand-held radios, CB's, short-wave radios and equipment, radio repeaters, cell phones, batteries for each type of equipment, tape recorders and tapes, video cameras and tapes, 35mm cameras and film, binoculars, night-vision goggles, well-drilling equipment and supplies for small water wells (i.e. cement, re-bar, nails, lumber, plywood, etc.), hand tools, solar equipment, generators, petroleum products, etc.




Western Shoshone National Council
HC 30
Box 272
Spring Creek, Nevada
USA 89815


Corporation Of Newe Sogobia
HC 30
Box 272
Spring Creek, Nevada
USA 89815

map of Newe Sogobia: Western Shoshone Lands

This WWW page was constructed by Peter d'Errico.