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WSU-Professor Orlan SvingenProfessor Orlan Svingen - WSU - Assisiting Lemhi-Shoshone to regain federal recognition

 

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Western Institute For Study of the Environment - The People Who Lived Among the Clouds

Sacajawea Center - Interpretive, Cultural, and Educational

Bringing Awareness - Metis Society of Oregon

 

Sacajawea's People The Lemhi-Shoshones and the Salmon River Country By John W. W. Mann

Sacajawea CoinOn October 20, 2001, a crowd gathered just east of Salmon, Idaho, to dedicate the site of the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural, and Education Center, in preparation for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. In a bitter instance of irony, the American Indian peoples conducting the ceremony dedicating the land to the tribe, the city of Salmon, and the nation the Lemhi Shoshones, Sacajawea's own people had been removed from their homeland nearly a hundred years earlier and had yet to regain official federal recognition as a tribe. John W. W. Mann's book at long last tells the remarkable and inspiring story of the Lemhi Shoshones, from their distant beginning to their present struggles. In anticipation of the bicentennial celebration of the voyages of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery, the U. S. Mint issued a $1 coin in 1999 bearing the image of Sacajawea, the Indian woman who accompanied the expedition and contributed to its successful journey to the Pacific Ocean and back. While the coin has been heralded as a sign of long-overdue recognition of the contributions of Native Americans by the government, it has also been widely criticized.

For some, the image of Sacajawea on the coin is tantamount to a validation of the conquest of the American West. Sacajawea, they argue, is celebrated because she “complied with the goals of white America,” not because she was an Indian woman. Others suggest that Sacajawea’s contributions to the expedition have been magnified by myth, and that her role in the journey does not merit the acclaim she has received. Still others point to the irony of an American Indian on currency that will be spent disproportionately by non-Indians. Or to the obvious irony of the juxtaposition of the image of Sacajawea, who, some claim, was essentially a slave, and the word that appears above it: “liberty.” While Sacajawea, the most famous Indian woman in American history, is celebrated, most Americans have never even heard of her people, the Lemhi Shoshone. When the Sacajawea coin was unveiled, some Lemhis joined the chorus of criticisms, but for a reason all their own. When Glenna Goodacre, the artist who designed the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington D. C., was commissioned to create the Sacajawea dollar, she went to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, where the Lemhi Shoshone now reside, in search of a model, as well as some cultural context for her work. However, rather than finding a teenaged Lemhi to model for the coin, Goodacre selected a twenty-three year old Shoshone-Bannock woman from a different tribe or band.

The Lemhis voiced their disapproval over the physical appearance of the woman on the coin, whom they said did not resemble them, and over the depiction of Sacajawea carrying her baby in a blanket instead of on a cradleboard, as a Lemhi would have. The Lemhi, then, were slighted even when the federal government endeavored with the best of intentions to celebrate one of their contributions to American history. Moreover, the timing of the matter only added insult to the injury, because the Lemhi Shoshone, at the time, were four years into the long and arduous process of petitioning the government for federal recognition. But while the apparent slight of the Lemhis can be dismissed as an accident born of good intentions, it is also illustrative of larger aspects in their experiences and difficulties with the government during the course of the twentieth century. The issue of Indian identity, as William Hagan has noted, “has been a problem for individuals, tribes, and government administrators since the birth of this nation.” Who is Indian, who decides, and how? These questions are particularly perplexing when they involve tribes or groups who are not officially recognized by the federal government.

In fact, it was only with the promulgation of Title 25 Part 83 of the Code of Federal Regulations in 1978 that the government established standards for answering them. The history of the Lemhi Shoshone in the twentieth century, then, points to the difficulties surrounding issues of Indian identity, on both the group and individual levels, as well as the shortcomings of the criteria established for tribes or groups seeking federal recognition. Because the Lemhi Shoshone were removed to Fort Hall after their reservation in their traditional homeland in the Salmon River country was liquidated in 1907, and subsequently enrolled as members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Fort Hall, they fail to meet two of the criteria for the federal recognition that they seek: residence in a particular area with which they are historically associated, and a membership that does not belong to some other tribe. Paradoxically, the erosion of outsiders’ perception of Lemhi distinctiveness over the course of the twentieth century has coincided with an ongoing effort on the part of the Lemhi Shoshones to assert their cultural identity. The tie to the Salmon River country has been central to Lemhi identity, and they have been continually returning to The River Of No Return, as the Salmon River is known, both literally and figuratively. Immediately after removal, a group of Lemhis left their new home at Fort Hall and returned to establish a permanent community in the town of Salmon, Idaho.

Kids Pond now...

The Lemhi village, as it was known, persisted through most of the century. Many of the Lemhis who were removed to Fort Hall also continued to return to the Salmon River country annually to visit, hunt and fish in traditional areas, and to tend to the graves of their ancestors. The Salmon River country also preoccupied the Lemhis who remained at Fort Hall politically, as they sought to gain restitution for the seizure of their lands and the subsequent liquidation of their reservation. In addition, they have struggled to retain use of treaty rights to hunt and fish in areas to which they have been accustomed for generations, and, ultimately, to once again secure a legitimate land base in their ancestral homeland. After removal, there remained no incentive for federal officials to treat the 400-500 Lemhis as a distinct group. The BIA administered the Fort Hall Indian Reservation as a single tribal entity, and ceased the practice of separately enumerating the Lemhis from other peoples on the reservation by 1912. When the Fort Hall tribes adopted a constitution in 1936 under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, Lemhi autonomy was further eroded. Although the IRA was designed to preserve tribal culture and to allow Indian peoples to enjoy greater participation in decisions concerning their affairs, it had the opposite effect for the Lemhis. To retain a voice in decisions at Fort Hall, the Lemhis enrolled as members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, thus losing a measure of their Lemhi identity. But in the long run the Lemhi Shoshone’s experiences as a minority on a multi-tribal reservation only served to reinforce their identity.

Lemhi Encampments

One of the central concerns of Lemhis during their first decades at Fort Hall was securing annuities promised for relinquishing their reservation that had not been dispersed. Rather than pursuing their claim through the tribal council, however, the Lemhis formed their own committee—the Lemhi Committee—elected by and consisting of only Lemhis and charged with the task of securing the unpaid annuity monies. The total sum of outstanding monies amounted to just a few thousand dollars, but the Lemhis persisted in their efforts to secure it as a matter of principle; to the Lemhis, it appeared that the federal government intended to overlook its obligation to them now that they were enrolled at Fort Hall The Lemhi Committee succeeded in forcing federal officials to turn their attention to a Lemhi annuity fund that they had long ignored. By 1939, officials had compiled a census of Lemhi descendants eligible to receive payment. Slowly, individual per capita shares distributed. But when it came time to dispense the surplus of the fund, the Lemhis were required to request the monies through the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Council. The Lemhi Committee had resolved to use the surplus for a celebration of Lemhi heritage, but the resolution passed by the Tribal Business Council asked that the funds be released to all tribal members at Fort Hall. The BIA refused, explaining that the Lemhis held exclusive rights to the monies. At the same time, the bureau refused to allow the Lemhis to exercise those rights because it determined that “it is impossible to make a distribution to the Lemhi Indians because they, as such, are not presently identifiable on the Fort Hall Reservation from other Indians located thereon.” The BIA’s refusal to recognize (despite the 1939 census) the Lemhis, however, only strengthened Lemhi identity, and created confusion about their status at Fort Hall that carried over into the Lemhi’s Indian Claims Commission case that followed.

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes began to prepare a variety of claims to bring before the Indian Claims Commission shortly after its inception in 1946. The creation of the ICC coincided with a major shift in federal Indian policy to termination. As commission historian Harvey Rosenthal explains, “It is impossible to say if the commission represented the end of the Collier era or the beginning of that of termination; it stood between.” Whatever the intentions of its framers, however, the ICC was soon co-opted by terminationists in Congress, who viewed it as a useful tool in severing the special relationship between American Indian tribes and the federal government. With lump sum payments to tribes, the government could justify washing its hands of the Indian business. Nonetheless, “Indian communities and identity persisted.” Indeed, as Rosenthal argues, the ICC produced the exact opposite of the effect desired by terminationists: “enacted in theory to remove a stumbling block to assimilation, in practice it helped to redefine ‘Indianness’ for some groups and reawaken cultural pride for all.” Certainly this was the case with the Lemhi Shoshone. In 1962 the ICC carved the larger Shoshone claim into four separate claims based on its determination that four distinct groups had held exclusive use and occupancy of portions of the lands in question. The Lemhi Shoshone were one of these groups, but the wording of the Indian Claims Commission Act required that they pursue their claim as enrolled members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Fort Hall.

The consequences of that fact, however, remained unclear to tribal members at Fort Hall, Lemhi and non-Lemhi alike, in large part because the of the uncertainty resulting from the BIA’s earlier decision concerning the Lemhi annuity fund. The fact that some Lemhis, who had spent decades pursuing the annuity monies, assumed that their ICC case involved those funds only added to the confusion. When it became clear that it was their homeland and millions of dollars that were at stake, many Lemhis organized to oppose the ICC award offer, but their efforts were in vain. Ultimately, all tribal members at Fort Hall held stake in all claims, as the ICC act specified. When Fort Hall tribal members voted to accept a $4.5 million settlement award for the Lemhi claim, a number of the Lemhi minority sought to intervene to reverse the decision and gain control over the claim. Lemhis objected to the award settlement for a variety of reasons: some found the amount awarded insufficient; some viewed acceptance of the award as tantamount to relinquishing their homeland, which they held they had never done, and called for the lands to be returned instead; others resented the fact that the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, rather than just the Lemhi Shoshone, controlled the claim. After hearings, the Lemhi Petition In Intervention was dismissed, and 75 percent of the Lemhi award was distributed per capita to all tribal members at Fort Hall. The remaining 25 percent was allocated for the acquisition of lands on and around Fort Hall. Once again, the Lemhis’ minority status at Fort Hall had cost them monies offered in restitution for their homeland, and, as before, the Lemhis found the federal government unsympathetic to their objections because it failed to distinguish the Lemhis from other Indian peoples at Fort Hall.

If organizin to pursue legal claims reinforced Lemhi identity during the twentieth century, the roots of that identity are in the Salmon River Country, and in the continuing Lemhi tie to their homeland there. The Lemhis have sought redress for being exiled from their aboriginal homeland, but that does not mean they have accepted their displacement. A Lemhi community clung stubbornly to the town of Salmon’s landscape for nearly a century after removal, beckoning Lemhis from Fort Hall. Foregoing the benefits accorded to tribal members at Fort Hall, the Lemhis in Salmon refused to leave their ancestral homeland and squatted on lands which sympathetic residents of Salmon provided for their use. But as the decades passed, Salmon residents came to view the ramshackle village to the south of town as a blot on the landscape—a deterrent to tourism—rather than a quaint reminder of the region’s Lemhi heritage, as they had once viewed it. Town officials bulldozed the remaining structures in the village in 1991 to make way for a children’s fishing park, much to the dismay of its residents. “It was our home,” Lemhi Rod Ariwite later recalled, “But I guess everyone else thought it was an eyesore.”

Traditional hunting and fishing grounds remained central for the Lemhis in both Salmon and Fort Hall; indeed, the Lemhis at Fort Hall returned to join those in Salmon every year after removal to take advantage of the salmon runs as they had done for centuries. With the construction of dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers, however, the numbers of salmon began to diminish, and Indian treaty rights came under fire from Idaho sporting groups and state fish and game officials. Nonetheless, the Lemhis continued to fight to retain use of traditional hunting and fishing areas. Their efforts culminated in The State of Idaho v. Tinno, a 1972 Idaho Supreme Court case involving a Lemhi, Gerald Tinno, indicted for exercising tribal treaty rights that the court upheld in the end. In the years since the Lemhi ICC claim, the Tinno case, and the demise of the Lemhi village in Salmon, a new generation of Lemhi leaders has emerged to renew the Lemhi Shoshone claim to their homeland, and they have brought national attention to their struggle to preserve their connection to the Salmon River country. One of these leaders has been Rose Ann Abrahamson. After the death of her father, Lemhi leader Willie George Jr., Abrahamson vowed to carry on his commitment to preserving Lemhi Shoshone culture and traditions in the Salmon River country and to cultivating mutual respect between its Indian and non-Indian communities. Abrahamson followed through on her oath even after the Indian village came down, organizing and participating in pow wows, traditional ceremonies, and other events to celebrate the Lemhis’ heritage and their shared history with the non-Indian residents of the Salmon River country. Another Lemhi leader, Rod Ariwite, grew up in the Indian village and attended Salmon High School with Abrahamson, where he played football for the “Salmon Savages.” His vision for the Lemhis’ future in the Salmon River country is even more ambitious than hers.

Ariwite directs the Fort Lemhi Indian Community, Inc., a Lemhi Shoshone group that is currently working to restore federal recognition for the Lemhis, and re-secure a land base for them in the Salmon River country. The Fort Hall Indian Community, Inc. was formed under the auspices of Idaho Legal Aid Services in 1995, and it secured a $65,000 grant from the Administration for Native Americans with the aid of Idaho Legal Aid’s Indian Justice Clinic to pursue federal recognition. The Lemhis used grant money to contract with Dr. Orlan Svingen in the history department at Washington State University and Dr. Greg Campbell in the anthropology department at the University of Montana to conduct research and produce reports in support of the Lemhis’ efforts to secure acknowledgment. Gaining federal recognition, however, has proved difficult and time-consuming for tribes. In the first decade after its creation, the BIA’s Branch of Acknowledgment and Research (BAR) granted recognition to only eight of the 105 groups that had submitted petitions. Due to a growing backlog of cases, BAR began to develop procedures to streamline the petitioning process. The Secretary of the Interior implemented these in February 2000, limiting the research that BAR employees undertake before evaluating petitions. Nonetheless, tribes seeking federal acknowledgment face an up hill battle, as evidenced by the Bush administration’s decision to rescind recognition that had been granted to the Duwamish tribe during the final days of the Clinton administration.

But while the Lemhis pursue recognition according to BAR guidelines, they also hold hopes that it can be achieved through direct Congressional or Presidential action. As the country prepares for the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Lemhi leaders are taking their campaign for recognition and land restoration to the public. They point to the irony of celebrating Sacajawea’s contribution to the success of the Corps of Discovery, while at the same time denying formal recognition to the Lemhi Shoshone, Sacajawea’s people. The Lemhis hoped to reestablish a reservation in the Salmon River country in conjunction with their efforts to achieve recognition. The proposed reservation would have featured a model Lemhi village and a Sacajawea Interpretive Center to draw tourists during the bicentennial, and the plan seemed to get off to an auspicious start when the BLM suggested that it could help accommodate the Lemhis’ wish in 1997. “The tribe may only need 1,000 acres or less,” BLM area manager Dave Krosting commented at the time, “and in that case, we could probably find some land that would have very little conflict with other uses. We’d look at any practical proposal to help these people because they’re very deserving of it.” The controversy over the Sacajawea dollar coin also focused national attention on the Lemhis’ efforts to re-secure recognition and a place in their homeland. Some 300 Lemhis signed a petition sent to the U. S. Mint that expressed their objections. For Rod Ariwite, however, the unveiling of the coin represented an opportunity to galvanize support for the Lemhis. While many Lemhis considered the coin an affront, Ariwite remained more diplomatic. “We are somewhat offended that they used a non-Lemhi,” he explained, “but we are honored that they are honoring one of our own.” Ariwite attended the Sacajawea coin reception ceremony at the White House on May 4, 1999, where he delivered a formal request for Lemhi recognition to Hilary Clinton. Rose Ann Abrahamson also made a visit to the White House, when in January 2001 President Clinton posthumously elevated William Clark to the rank of Army captain and conferred the title of honorary sergeant to York, Clark’s slave, and Sacajawea.

As a descendant of Cameahwait, Sacajawea’s brother, Abrahamson accepted the honor on behalf of Sacajawea from Clinton during the ceremony. Meanwhile, the story of the contemporary Lemhi Shoshone began to garner national attention. Newspapers featured accounts of the Lemhi Shoshone quest to return to the Salmon River country. On October 26, 1999, The New York Times ran a front-page article on the Lemhis with the headline “Seeking Land for Tribe of Girl Who Helped Lewis and Clark.” But if the Lemhis have received support for their cause, they have also confronted obstacles. One has been the federal government. Despite the BLM’s favorable response to the Lemhis’ hope of acquiring a plot of land in the Salmon River country, the Interior Department has been less encouraging. “It is very hard for us to do something like that for one group of Indians without doing it for another,” department spokesman Stephanie Hanna commented. “If conscience was the only factor, a whole lot of Indian land might be given back based on historical grievances.” Meanwhile, Congress did fund some $12 million for a Sacajawea Interpretive and Education Center, but not in conjunction with a restoration of the Lemhis to their homeland. Instead, at the request of elected officials in Idaho, the center was granted to the town of Salmon and its tourist industry. That decision was like pouring salt on an open wound of the Lemhis, who feel that Salmon residents are capitalizing on the town’s Lemhi heritage, while they shun the Lemhi Shoshone people.

Chief Tendoy and son

Photo caption: Chief Tendoy and son.

“The people who should be benefiting from the Lemhi heritage are not benefiting at all,” commented Snookins Honena, a grandson of Chief Tendoy. Ariwite is more explicit. “They have Sacajawea heritage days, they have Sacajawea arts and crafts, they have Sacajawea everything but the real Indians who are Sacajawea’s people in the valley,” he explains. “The feeling we get here is ‘We don’t want you here, but we want your Sacajawea heritage.’” Many Salmon residents fear that a return of the Lemhis would bring unwelcome changes. Lemhi County Commissioner Tom Chaffin explained that area residents would welcome a return of the Lemhis, but they fear that a reservation would be accompanied by a casino and competition for precious resources like water and salmon, as well as jobs. “I don’t doubt that they have been neglected or abused down there [at Fort Hall]. My heart goes out to them,” Chaffin commented, but he also admitted “personally, I don’t want to see a reservation.” It is not surprising that many Lemhis feel that white residents of the valley welcome only the legends of Sacajawea and their other Shoshone ancestors, not real human beings. They cite the destruction of the Indian village in 1991 as the clearest sign that they are not welcome in Salmon. If the community of Salmon does not exactly welcome the Lemhis’ return, the Sho-Bans at Fort Hall are not eager to see them go either. Recognized tribes in general do not favor federal acknowledgment; the more tribes there are, the thinner federal funds must be spread. Commenting on the Lemhis’ desire to return home, Fort Hall Tribal Business Council Chairman Duane Thompson offered a dismissal, explaining that “Their treaty was never ratified, so basically they belong down here.” But many Lemhis have never felt that they belonged at Fort Hall—Ariwite describes them as “hostages” of the Sho-Bans. The Lemhis never wanted to go to Fort Hall in part because they had been enemies with some of the other bands on the reservation, and despite nearly a century sharing the same home, old tensions remain.

“It was that way then,” Ariwite explains, “Why in hell would it be any different now?” The Lemhis believe that Indians and non-Indians alike have victimized them. xsically,” Ariwite summarizes the Lemhi experience, “we are the Indians to the other Indians.” Of the 400 to 500 Lemhi Shoshones at Fort Hall, Ariwite estimates, at least half are in favor of returning to the Salmon River country. The odds are stacked against them. The government will not help them. Salmon area residents are reluctant to accept them. The Sho-Bans do not want to let them go. But the Lemhis will not give up. They want their children to know the land of their ancestors. “My kids come up here [to the Salmon River country] with me to fish and camp in the summer, and they say, ‘Dad, how could you ever give this land up?” Ariwite relates, “But we haven’t given up. The Lewis and Clark bicentennial is going to be our last fight. In 1805, the Americans asked for our help. Now we’re asking for theirs.” When the Corps of Discovery entered the Salmon River country in 1805 it reunited Sacajawea with her people, ending her five-year exile from her homeland. The approach of the bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark expedition presents the federal government with a unique opportunity. The Lemhis have been refugees for nearly a century. If government officials are serious about pursuing a policy of self-determination for Indian peoples, and if they are sincere in their desire to honor American Indian contributions to the achievements of the Corps of Discovery, then perhaps they will restore official recognition to the Lemhi Shoshone, Sacajawea’s people.

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