Shoshone Prevail Over Members’ Business

     RENO, Nev. (CN) – Western Shoshone who formed a livestock partnership cannot force the tribe to give them access to the tribe’s grazing lands and water in Nevada, a federal judge ruled.
     The South Fork Livestock Partnership sued the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone et al. in January, claiming the tribe violated their civil rights and property rights by restricting their access to water and to land designated in federal grazing permits.
     U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks on Monday dismissed with prejudice the complaint against the Te-Moak tribe and the South Fork Band, for lack of jurisdiction.
     He dismissed without prejudice the complaint against Te-Moak Chairman Davis Gonzalez, South Fork Band Vice-Chairwoman Alice Tybo and South Fork Band Administrator Virgil Townsend.
     “As domestic dependent nations, Indian tribes exercise ‘inherent sovereign authority’ that is only subject to plenary control by Congress,” Hicks wrote. “Unless and until Congress acts, the tribes retain their historic sovereign authority,” which includes immunity from lawsuits as “‘traditionally enjoyed by sovereign powers.'”
     “That immunity applies whether a suit is brought by a state or arises from a tribe’s commercial activities off Indian lands. Therefore, unless Congress has unequivocally authorized the underlying action or there is an express waiver of sovereign immunity by the tribes, this action must be dismissed.”
     Several tribal members formed the South Fork Livestock Partnership and obtained permits for livestock grazing on federal lands, but those lands do not have access to water.
     Gonzalez said the partnership demanded water access from the Te-Moak tribe and South Fork Band, but the tribe’s constitution gives first priority for water access to tribal organizations, second preference to individual tribal members – and the water isn’t for grazing.
     “They’re not a tribal organization,” Gonzalez said. “They got organized and got permits to graze on the federal land, but they didn’t have water.”
     Gonzalez said the issue involves the South Fork Band, not the overall Te-Moak tribe.
     “Our constitution said the South Fork Band will run their own business,” Gonzalez said. “The South Fork Band has the authority, but they keep coming to our council.”
     Judge Hicks said the partnership might renew its legal fight if it targeted the tribe’s Section 17 corporate charters instead of directly suing the tribe and alleging that “some conduct, action, threat of conduct or control by the individual tribal defendants related to the alleged denial of access to federal land and water.”
     The South Fork Band is one of four in the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone, in and around Elko. The other three are the Battle Mountain Band, Elko Band Colony and the Wells Band.
     The Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone is a federally recognized tribe with a corporate charter approved in 1938 and a constitution amended in 1982. Representatives for the South Fork Livestock Partnership could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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