LAPWAI — The Nez Perce Tribe General Council, in its second resolution of its spring session, recognized the Snake River as a living entity that has rights, including the right to exist, flourish, evolve, flow, regenerate — and a right to its restoration.
Nez Perce Tribe member Elliott Moffett introduced the resolution to the General Council on Friday afternoon after presentations by the Natural Resources, Land Commission, Climate Change/Energy, Fish and Wildlife and Utility subcommittees had given the tribal members in attendance an update on their progress this year.
After being passed by the General Council on Friday afternoon, the resolution now goes to the Nez Perce Tribe Executive Committee for consideration.
Moffett said the Snake River would be represented by legal guardians who would guard its fundamental rights.
“We begin looking at nature with all its sacredness, that’s why we wanted to start with the Snake River and build from there,” Moffett said when asked why not include all rivers associated with the Nez Perce and their ancestral lands.
The tribe’s new Climate Change/Energy Subcommittee reported that it was working to create its first solar-powered microgrid, which would supply power for the community center, wastewater treatment center and Boys and Girls Club in Lapwai, Chantelle Greene said. The tribe is also working to create energy storage, as well as power generation.
“We are the administrators,” Natural Resources Subcommittee Chairman Ferris Paisano said of lands from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. “We have to take our role as administrators.”
Paisano also provided updates on the tribe’s actions against Midas Gold, which is planning a gold mine at the Stibnite site in Valley County along the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River; forest plan revision at the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest; the possibility of a Rainbow Family of Living Light gathering on Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest land that could threaten to damage Nez Perce cultural and natural resources; the tribe’s work in restoring the condor to Hells Canyon; a bighorn sheep disease study in Hells Canyon; and the tribe’s collaboration with federal agencies and intertribal collaboration on fisheries.
Land Commission Subcommittee Chairwoman Liz Arthur Attao updated the General Council on a number of land topics, including agricultural leasing, fee to trust, and the acquisition of five new parcels that increased the tribe’s land holdings by more than 2,000 acres. Since 2009, when the tribe owned 154,724 acres, it has acquired an additional 13,238 acres.
The issue of trespassing on tribal lands and conflicts with nontribal people when tribal members have been exercising their treaty rights to fish came up during both the law and order morning session and natural resources afternoon session. Some landowners are denying tribe members access to the rivers to fish for salmon, a right written into the 1855 treaty.
The discussion led to calls for the tribe to assert its sovereignty and its treaty rights and to rescind Public Law 280, a federal statute passed by Congress in 1953 that allowed states criminal and civil jurisdiction in matters regarding Native Americans on reservation lands that used to be handled by the tribal or federal courts. Idaho is one of several states to have assumed some jurisdiction over Native Americans on reservation land since the law passed.
Nez Perce Tribal Police Chief Harold Scott said the tribe is working with the state of Idaho to have its officers recognized as peace officers, which would give them jurisdiction over both Native Americans and non-Indian people.
Tommie Williams also asked the General Council to celebrate Juneteenth in Lapwai, which will be held today at 11 a.m. Williams, a Black member of the Nez Perce Tribe, told the General Council that away from Lapwai he had been called a “thug, a gang member and a threat,” and he wanted to exercise his right to celebrate Black culture and Nez Perce culture by coming together and sharing the history behind Juneteenth. Juneteenth is a holiday marking the emancipation of slaves in the United States and is traditionally celebrated June 19.
The General Council’s first resolution Friday was in regard to scholarships to help higher-education students wherever they are going to school. The tribe would release some of their trust money to these students. The resolution, passed Friday morning, goes to the NPTEC for consideration next.
There was also a discussion about the 2020 census. Currently, only 44 percent of the tribe has participated in the census and only 10.5 percent of Lapwai has filled out the census survey. The General Council was reminded that the deadline to respond is Oct. 31.
Wells may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2275.