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Timbisha Shoshone Tribe Face Eviction

From the: Timbisha Shoshone Tribe
NAIIP News Path ~ March 1996

Death Valley Shoshone California - The Death Valley Timbisha Shoshone Tribe (formerly Panamint Shoshone), is faced with eviction by the National Park Service from their last remnant of traditional homeland in Death Valley National Park. The Timbisha people can use your support to stop the National Park Service and Department of Interior's actions. Please contact your Congressional representatives, Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, the White House, and boycott the Park.


On March 7, 1996, the United States Department of Interior, National Park Service, told leaders of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe that they will no longer consider providing any land in trust for the Tribe within Death Valley National Park.

After 63 years of dispute over the return of these Tribal lands to the historic and federally recognized landless Tribe, the Park Service will remove the Tribe from the last of its traditional homelands in Death Valley. The Tribe has occupied this land, at the will of the Park Service, since 1933 when President Hoover took the Tribe's land away to establish Death Valley National Monument.

The Secretary's actions are in direct violation of the California Desert Protection Act of 1994.

The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe's federal recognition status and land restoration proposals confirm Tribal rights to religious, spiritual and sacred land areas, established a reservation land base to preserve the Tribe's cultural heritage, values, and traditions within the Death Valley National Park and in the Panamint Mountain Range and Valley.

The Secretary of Interior has now adopted a series of positions in relation to the Tribe's land that is a breach of the Department's trust responsibility to Indian people, and in direct conflict with the sovereign government-to-government relationship firmly established by the President in his executive policy of April 1994.

The Administrative decision to refuse to consider any trust land for the Tribe within the Park is a retaliatory measure for the Tribe's active opposition to the CR Briggs/Canyon Resources open pit heap cyanide gold mine located in and on Tribal ancestral homelands, being operated in violation of state and federal law.

The Tribe is being penalized for its efforts to protect the Timbisha people's ancestral homelands from destruction by bulldozers, dynamite and cyanide. By failing to act to protect the Tribe's interest in the Panamint Mountains and Valley, by allowing the entire area to be consumed by cyanide gold mining, and by refusing to consider Tribal trust lands within the Park, the Administration has eliminated better than 80 percent of the Tribe's aboriginal homelands from consideration.

The Timbisha people refuse to be forced off their homelands, refuse to accept second-class lands, and refuse to be ground under the heel of the National Park Service's paramilitary forces. This is nothing more than cultural genocide. The Secretary of Interior's actions must be stopped now.


The California Desert Protection Act.

In 1994, the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe was successful in having an amendment added to the California Desert Protection Act (PL 103-433, Section 705b), which directed the Secretary of Interior "in consultation with the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe and relevant Federal agencies, shall conduct a study, subject to the availability of appropriations, to identify lands suitable for a reservation for the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe that are located within the Tribe's aboriginal homeland area within and outside the boundaries of the Death Valley National Monument and the Death Valley National Park, as described in title III of this Act."

The Study Process

After no action was taken by the Secretary to carry-out the provisions of section 705b, the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe initiated a series of meetings with the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish & Wildlife, US Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Inyo & Esmeralda Counties, the Department of the Navy and the Bureau of Reclamation in Death Valley, California. Representatives from the Tribe and federal agencies came to form the Timbisha Shoshone Land Suitability Study Group, charged with implementing the provisions of section 705b. Throughout the study period the Timbisha Land Restoration Committee, its anthropoligist Catherine S. Fowler Ph.D., University of Nevada, Reno; historian Steven J. Crum Ph.D., University of California, Davis; economic development consultant Karen Kupcha, Karen Kupcha & Associates; negotiation trainer Steven Haberfeld Ph.D., Indian Dispute Resolution Services; and attorney Frederick I. Marr (formerly with California Indian Legal Services) laid the foundation for the Tribe's Land restoration proposal.

A Very Brief Tribal History

The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe was formerly known as the Panamint Shoshone Indians of Death Valley, California. Once the Tribe obtained federal recognition, as an Indian Tribe, in 1983, the name was changed to Timbisha Shoshone (actually the legal name is Death Valley Timbi-sha Shoshone Band). The Panamint Shoshone are best known for their fine basket making ability. Due to the restrictions placed upon the Timbisha Shoshone people's way of life, following the arrival of the National Park Service in 1933, basket making and many other traditional practices are on the verge of extinction.

In 1933 when Death Valley National Monument was created, the Timbisha people were cut-off from their springs, hunting grounds and traditional, cultural, and sacred sites. In the words of Pauline Esteves, Acting Tribal Chairperson and tribal elder; "Since 1933, the National Park Service has done everything in its power to deny the Tribe's historical claims, pretend we do not exist, and to get us out of the Park."

By 1936, the Tribe's present relocation camp was under construction. With funds provided by the Indian Service and labor provided by the California Conservation Corps nine crude adobe homes, one trading post and one commerical laundry was built. The Timbisha people living at the current site of the National Park Service residential area, Park Service headquarters, Furnace Creek and Texas Springs campgrounds were rounded up and relocated to what would later become known as the Indian Village. Residents of the Indian Village were to make a living producing handicrafts for the trading post, washing Park Service employee's clothes at the laundry, or by being put on display outside of the trading post's door. This effort did not last for very long. The Timbisha people who worked at the Trading Post and Laundry soon discovered that they could make more money independently, and resented having to turn over their money to the wives of Park Service employees who ran the operation.

Those Timbisha people who refused to move the new Indian Village and be "corralled like cattle," left Death Valley in seach of areas where they could continue to live their traditional way-of-life free of persecution. The Timbisha people who remained in Death Valley essentially abandoned many of their traditional practices rather than go through the odd and humiliating process of obtaining a special use permit to carry-out activities that were once a regular part of their daily lives.

To add injury to insult, in the summer when the Timbisha people would leave Death Valley to escape the heat and return to their traditional summer camps, they soon discovered that the Park Service had a policy of bulldozing any vacated homes. Of the nine original homes, four remain. Until the mid-1980's, none of the homes had indoor plumbing or electricity. For those of you that live in the desert, this also meant no air-conditioning in 120+ degree weather. Despite the increased hardships, tribal members began to abandon their traditional summer camps and remained in Death Valley to protect their homes once they learned of the "Indian Village Policy."

Contemporary Life

Approximately 50 Timbisha people remain at the Indian Village in Death Valley National Park. This number is fixed due to the lack of housing and employment. Total tribal enrollment is nearly 300 members. After receiving acknowledgment as a federally recognized Indian tribe, the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe has been successful in obtaining funding to renovate the remaining adobe homes, purchase additional housing (for a total of 17 housing units), instaff electricity, pave Village roads, and improve the Village water distribution system. The Timbisha Shoshone Tribal Council and its various committees are actively working to revive and preserve traditional/culture customs.

Unfortunately, the National Park Service and Department of Interior either does not understand or chooses to ignore the importance and relationship between tribal land ownership and cultural preservation. This is ironic for an agency that purports to be America's cultural preservation guardian.

Timbisha Aboriginal Territory

The Timbisha (or Panamint) Shoshone aboriginal homeland covers approximately 11 million acres in eastern California and Northwestern Nevada. Of this area, Death Valley National Park contains approximately 80 percent of the Tribe's known traditiona, cultural, and sacred sites.

Timbisha Land Restoration Proposal
(In a nut-shell)

The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe through its Land Restoration Committee has identified approximately 850,000 acres of Land (~8% of the Tribe's aboriginal territory) for restoration. The majority of land identified within the Park will be used by the Tribe for traditional cultural activities. Housing and development within the Park will occur in development zones previously identified by the Park Service as suitable for such activities. With regard to development, the Tribe has made a commitment to construct facilities that conform to their environment, are low in profile, energy efficient, and make the most of renewable energy technology. Tribal enterprises within the Park will be primarily geared toward the low-impact eco-tourism concept and focus on sharing with visitors the rich history of the Tribe. Revenue obtained from development will be used to fund a varietyof social programs as well as traditiona cultural management programs.

Cultural and Environmental Protection

Until the Tribe was cut-off from its land in 1933, it had been a integral part of the ecological equation--cultivating mesquite, pine nuts and other indigenous plant life for food, developing and preserving springs for their own use and to protect and enhance the wildlife, and selectively burning underbrush to prevent forest fires in the mountains.

During the Land restoration study process the Tribe's anthropologist and ethno-botanist has documented the adverse effect the Tribe's removal from the land has had on the environment. Despite the myth perpetrated by the Park Service, the land and natural resources have sustained a resilient and creative desert people and a rich Native American culture for thousands of years. The Timbisha leaders see the land as a part of themselves to be cultivated and nurtured not exploited and degraded. It is on loan to them and they are the guardians for the coming generations.


Following the March 7 meeting between the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe and federal agency representatives, the Tribe issued a Press Release that stated in part, "federal officials from the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management told leaders of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe that their boss, Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, has decided to throw the Tribe off the last remnant of its traditional homelands in Death Valley."

Since the media has taken an interest in the Restoration Study, the Park Service has since"clarified their position," by stating that they will not kick the Tribe out of the Park, but will instead work out some type of long-term lease agreement. Unfortunately, Park Service officials present at the March 7 meeting did not then qualify their statements in such a way.

Nevertheless, in interviews to the media the Tribe's Spokesperson, Richard Boalnd has stated their position as follows.

"The National Park Service conveniently forgets that inthe Desert Protection Act, Congress specifically called for the study to include land within the Park. If the Park Service is now going to withdraw from consideration all land within the Park, they'll have to tell us why it's now unsuitable. Death Valley National Park contains over 80 percent of the Tribe's aboriginal homeland and we have a right to have our traditional, cultural, and sacred sites restored to us in trust. We refuse to accept their latest proposal for a long-term lease. This option was offered to us in the 1980's. We didn't fight to have the restoration study included in the Desert Protection Act so we could return to their old ways of thinking. If the Park Service thinks they're going to continue to dictate to our people how they live their lives; through the issuance of special use permits or leases, they're crazy. They may as well put back the barbed wire around this relocation camp they forced us to in the 1930's. We're not going to put up with that kind of treatment any longer!

You know, there appears to be plenty of land within the Park when it comes to housing employees of the Park Service, their history association, the concessionaires, the department of transportation, the highway patrol, the school district, and French, German, and Japanese tourists, but when it comes to the Timbisha people we're told you Indians get at the back of the line. And I guess now we're being pushed out of the line. This attitude says a lot about the way our people are treated and unfortunately it's nothing new to us."

We welcome your support.

For more informatin please contact:

Timbisha Shoshone Tribe
"Erick Mason, Timbisha Vice Chairman"
P.O. Box 786
110 Edwards Street
Bishop, California 93514
Office main: 760-873-9003
Office FAX: 760-873-9004

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