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IFB Opposes Nez Perce Settlement

by Patricia R. McCoy
Capital Press, December 10, 2004

MOSCOW, Idaho -- The Idaho Farm Bureau will not support the Nez Perce Settlement part of the Snake River Basin Adjudication, which delegates to the IFB’s annual meeting here said gave too much and gained too little.

New policy opposing the proposed settlement was passed after nearly three hours of floor debate and several hours of behind the scenes lobbying at the three-day convention here Nov. 30 to Dec. 2.

The final vote was 49 opposing the settlement against 18 in favor of it.

Several delegates spoke in favor of the settlement, most of them from Southern Idaho. The voices opposed were more numerous. A major concern appeared to be that the negotiations were held behind closed doors, made public only after a framework settlement was worked out.

“In a court of law, you only have standing if you’re a litigant. The negotiations were held in secret because there were fears of other problems if they were public. If you had a water right, you had a right to be there,” said Don Hale, Bingham County delegate.

Lack of standing kept the environmental community out of the negotiations as well, he said.

“That’s what we get with this agreement. If an Endangered Species Act lawsuit is filed, the tribe and all the federal agencies have to say this settlement covers it. That will leave the environmentalists the only ones on the other side of the table,” he said.

Federal Claims

Hale participated in the negotiations because he and other irrigators in his area objected to many if not all federal claims made in the SRBA. Federal claims were filed on behalf of numerous agencies as well as the Nez Perce Tribe, he said.

“We asked them to come up with one voice representing all federal claims, and they finally did,” Hale said.

The Nez Perce Settlement required congressional approval before it could go forward in Idaho. The quickest way to get the attention of Congress was to present it as a Native American issue, he said.

Within Idaho, it must still be approved by the tribe itself, and by state lawmakers when the Idaho Legislature begins its annual session in January, Hale said.

Hale dismissed fears that the settlement could set a precedent, allowing other tribes to make water rights claims potentially disruptive to a state’s or region’s economy.

“The Nez Perce are the last tribe we need to settle with. The Shoshone-Bannocks in Eastern Idaho have already settled. They tried to come back into the SRBA, but the court denied them that right. There won’t be any precedents set by this,” he said.

Claims Invalid

A legal report given to delegates during an educational workshop on the agreement the day before the debate began said the Nez Perce water rights claims were already ruled invalid by the court, said Bob Callahan, Latah County delegate speaking in opposition to the settlement.

“The 1855 Treaty between the United States and the tribe was the outcome of war between the Nez Perce and our nation. It was a pact imposed by a superior power on a defeated nation. Tragic as that is, it’s history. The tribal claims appear to ignore the treaty,” Callahan said.

Treaty terms denied the Nez Perce all rights not specifically reserved to them in the document. The very first sentence states that the tribe ceded all their rights and interests in the country they once claimed that were not within their reservation, he said.

“As unthinkable as a shortage of water was then, it’s also unthinkable that the tribe should think it can claim to control water outside the reservation. In the treaty, they promised to be friendly to all peoples from that time forward. The situation we now face appears to breach that promise. They’re attacking us with lawyers instead of war parties,” he said.

Keith Damon, Benewah County delegate, said he lives on private property within the reservation.

“I have friends and relatives who are tribal members, and with whom I work all the time. The negotiations give credence to their claims and their tactics. Negotiated settlements have their place, but they should only be used when all participants have legitimate yet conflicting claims. That is not the case in this situation,” Damon said.

Rep. Butch Otter, R-Idaho, visited the convention briefly, informally addressing one lunch session. He denied that Congress actually approved the proposed settlement.

“What we really said is that if Idaho wants to pass this settlement, we provide $60 million in the budget to help cover some of the costs involved. It is now up to the state and those who directly manage Idaho’s resources to decide how they want to deal with this,” Otter said.

Patricia R. McCoy, Capital Press Staff Writer
IFB Opposes Nez Perce Settlement
Capital Press, December 10, 2004

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