Author: Barbara E. Deverse
In 1994, Congress enacted the California Desert Protection Act, P.L. 103-433, including Section 705(b), which addresses the need of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe for a recognized land base in the California Desert. The Department of the Interior (DOI) and its agencies, The National Park Service (NPS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), were directed to conduct a study to identify lands suitable for a reservation for the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe that had no land base and currently resides in its ancestral homeland in and around Death Valley National Park.
Proposed Trust Areas and Cooperative Agreement Areas were digitized, and utilizing GIS and Intranet tools the DOI team established a secure Web site and placed land use information for interdisciplinary interactions. Using GIS, poster size maps were produced to brief congressional members and the public. Utilizing information technology, such as posting digital land use maps on the Web, allowed the different members of the team from across the country, including the tribe, to collaborate, improve communication, and increase the chances of success for such a cooperative undertaking.
When it was completed in April 1999, the draft report described a comprehensive integrated plan creating a unique partnership between the Timbisha Tribe, Death Valley National Park, and the Bureau of Land Management by establishing a reservation for the Tribe and creating cooperative management opportunities within the tribe's ancestral homelands in the Mojave Desert. On October 17, 2000, the Timbisha Homeland Bill passed Congress and was signed by the President shortly after.
RESTORATION OF TRIBAL HOMELANDS:
A case study in collaborative leadership and shared responsibilities
The 1994 California Desert Protection Act of 1994 (PL 103-433), Title VII, section (b) (1) and (2), authorized the Secretary of Interior, in direct consultation with the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe and relevant Federal agencies, to conduct a study to identify suitable lands for the establishment of a reservation located within the Tribe's aboriginal homelands. Four federal agencies, with jurisdiction spread across two state lines, assembled a joint interagency team to complete the study and forward land use suitability recommendations to Congress.
On November 1, 2000, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the creation of the 1st tribal reservation in a National Park and the transfer of thousands of acres of public lands in California and Nevada to the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe.
As with virtually all Native American groups, the Timbisha Shoshone people were displaced from their ancestral homeland and traditional way of life with the westward expansion of the United States. The Timbisha Shoshone tribal ancestral lands includes millions of acres of what is now the northern California Desert and the southern Nevada Desert.
For decades the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe has sought to obtain trust land within its aboriginal homeland. The Tribe had no land base and no formal agreements with federal agencies to use ancestral lands for tribal activities and ceremonies. The establishment of a tribal homeland and viable tribal communities and the development of cooperative agreements would serve to rectify the Tribe's current condition. The designation of a tribal homeland would allow the Tribe to exercise self-determination as a sovereign nation, establish economic sustainability, and establish tribal eligibility for special Native American programs.
In January 1995, a federal and tribal negotiating team was established to develop and integrate the necessary processes and products to fulfill the Congressional mandate. The tribal team was composed of Timbisha Shoshone tribal officials and consultants. The federal team members were drawn from the headquarters, regional, and field offices of the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, U.S. National Park Service (USNPS), U.S. Bureau of Land Management (USBLM), U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (USBIA), Office of American Indian Trust (OAIT), Bureau of Reclamation (USBOR).
In 1996, the Team envisaged a dual track approach. Track One would complete the land use planning screening actions that would eliminate certain lands from further consideration based on existing land use plan conformance. Track Two would proceed with the environmental screening process that would identify biological, cultural and natural constraints and designations (i.e. areas of critical environmental concern, critical habitat etc.).
One of the first major steps in the negotiation process was to identify appropriate factors to determine whether lands within the Homeland were “suitable” for a reservation. The suitability criteria used in the study process are based on the set shared interests articulated by the negotiating team.
The suitability criteria were determined to be: the historical tribal relationship to the land; effects of climate and geography; availability of water and existence of natural resources; availability of infrastructure, such as roads, power lines, and other public services; the potential for sustainable tribal development; potential for housing; compatibility with existing land uses; special land use designations such national park land, wilderness, critical habitat; and areas of critical environmental concerns; existing encumbrances such as mining claims, leases, and rights-of-way; and, the Tribe's historical residential and cultural use areas.
GIS technology played a vital role in determining lands suitable for The Timbisha Tribal Homeland. Data layers and map displays produced included possible Trust and Co-management areas, species habitat, water sources, special areas (wilderness), land status and topography. All GIS data were exported along with digital 71/2 minute topographic background from Arcview to graphics format for image display on a web page. Digital photos of possible parcels were added to the web pages.
Establishment of a permanent land base for the Tribe in traditional ancestral homeland falling within and without today's National Park boundaries;
Preservation and development of the Tribe's own dynamic indigenous culture by living as a community on its ancestral lands;
Involvement of the Tribe in economic and employment development activities, particularly low impact eco-tourism development;
Establishment of quality housing clusters for tribal members close to schools, services, and physical infrastructure (roads, electricity, water, and sewage, etc.). Proposed locations will include places in and near Furnace Creek as well as elsewhere in the Tribe's original Homeland;
Establishment of the Tribe's government headquarters and community and human service programs in and near Furnace Creek;
Recognition of the Tribe's historic responsibility to remain concerned and engaged in the active protection and preservation of the environmental (water, vegetation, wildlife) and cultural resources of the Death Valley area;
Recognition of a common interest in the compatibility of other land uses;
Recognition of the interests of the Tribe and the National Park Service in making the Tribe an integral part, in full partnership with the National Park Service, of the Death Valley National Park's landscape and program, including presenting/interpreting the Tribe's own history and culture to Park visitors;
Use by the Tribe of its traditional summer camping area for seasonal use (including the possibility of physical structures), harvesting, stewarding land and natural resources, etc.;
Recognition that any future or additional development of land in Furnace Creek will be conditioned by availability and allocation of water and by jointly established standards of size, impact, and design.
The Timbisha Shoshone Tribal Homeland- A draft Secretarial Report to Congress to Establish a Permanent Tribal Land Base and Related Cooperative Activities.
The Draft Report describes a comprehensive integrated plan to create a unique partnership between the Timbisha Tribe, the Department of the Interior (USNPS, USBLM, USFWS, USBIA) by establishing a reservation for the Tribe and creating cooperative management opportunities within the Tribe's ancestral homelands in the Mojave Desert.
The Draft Report includes a number of recommended actions (based upon specific criteria) that would establish a land base, ensure tribal access to other lands significant to the history and culture of the Tribe, and establish a framework to enable the Tribe to carry on certain tribal traditions in portions of their ancestral homeland.
The Draft Report identifies specific lands within the Timbisha Shoshone ancestral homeland to be transferred and acquired, and additional areas to which the Tribe will be provided access and the right to participate in cooperative activities in partnership with the respective federal agencies.
The Draft Report emphasized that some proposed recommendations could not be accomplished by the Department of the Interior without congressional authorization and proposed legislation, and in the case of private lands, willing sellers.
The Proposed Action requested authorization to transfer approximately 7,500 acres and to purchase several privately held parcels of federal land to be taken into trust for the Tribe by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior (USDOI).
USDOI acknowledged that certain tribal traditional uses, gathering of plant material and protection of cultural and natural resources can be compatible with the protection of natural resource and each agencies mission and stewardship requirements. This presents a unique opportunity to learn more about the role of human interaction with the natural environment and the protection of ecological integrity of ecosystems.
Consequently, the Proposed Action includes provisions for the federal land management agencies and the Tribe to negotiate and enter into cooperative agreements, using existing authorities, for tribal access to and use of certain lands of particular cultural and historical significance to the Tribe. The authority to manage these lands would be retained by the respective agencies. In recognition of the contributions of the Tribe to the history, culture, and ecology of the region, the action calls for the designation of a Timbisha Shoshone Natural and Cultural Preservation Area within and adjacent to Death Valley National Park.
With the leadership of Senator Inouye (D-Hawaii), the 106th Congress drafted and passed the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act (S. 2102), in October 2000. The Act authorized the transfer approximately 7,500 acres and to purchase several privately held parcels of federal land to be taken into trust for the Tribe by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
On November 1, 2000, the President signed S. 2101 The Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act into law authorizing the transfer of federal lands in California and Nevada, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (USBLM) and the U.S. National Park Service (USNPS), to the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe. The LEIS was completed in the Spring of 2001. The land adjudication process between the two governments has commenced.
GIS technology played a vital role in determining lands suitable for The Timbisha Tribal Homeland. The GIS Internet hosted format for the dissemination of information was readily available to team members, to other offices and agencies, and the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe and proved to be the most intensive means of displaying visual and textual data for analysis and decision making.