OWYHEE, Nev. – This is the middle of nowhere and 100 miles from
any Interstate freeway or railroad track.
The closest grocery store is 13 miles away. A bank and tribally owned
fuel pump just recently came to town. Buying fresh meat means a two-hour
drive to Mountain Home, Idaho. The biggest changes in the last few
decades have been in the farming equipment used on the land
At the very bottom of the state map, actually straddling the Nevada-Idaho
border, is the Duck Valley Indian Reservation – home to 1,200
Shoshone-Paiute Indians who inhabit the 290,000 acres of high desert
"You can go out during the day or at night and not hear anything
but the birds," says Marvin Cota, former tribal chairman. "I
love it. It’s unique, isolated.
Shoshone-Paiute Tribal Officec on a snowy day in February. It's
located on the Idaho side of the Duck Valley Reservation.
"Something probably very few other Indians are familiar with
is isolation with no surrounding encroachment."
Unique and isolated are descriptors that may aptly be ascribed to
the Shoshone-Paiute people as well. Tribal members have to reconcile
this isolation with a number of factors, including self-determination,
health care, economic development and a noisy military neighbor.
Of all the reservations in the state, only at Duck Valley do tribal
members, mostly ranchers and farmers, own all of the land. That was
not the result of any political movement, Cota says. The members just
do not sell the land to outsiders.
Also, the tribe is the first in the state to push for more self-reliance
with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as the tribal council has taken
on many of the duties previously performed by that agency through
the Indian Self Determination Act of 1973.
"We’re the only self-governance tribe in Idaho," says
Lindsey Manning, environmental planner/educator and former chairman
of the tribe. Now, the council gets a lump sum of $6 million to dole
out to different agencies as it chooses, instead of having to wade
through the bureaucracy of sending requests to Elko, Nev. and Phoenix
for approval, Manning says.
Cutting out the red tape means the tribe gets about $1.5 million more
than they did before, which is used on the hospital, all social services,
enrollment, education and a host of environmental programs. The tribe
left law enforcement, road maintenance and irrigation control to the
BIA and is taking over the irrigation from the agency this year, Manning
Convincing members to accept this level of self-determination was
not easy, he says, and other tribes in the state have chosen not to
take on the responsibilities.
"The turbulent part was our people didn’t want us to do
it," Manning says. "They said it would be our demise, taking
trust responsibilities from the government."
Tribal members, many of whom worked for the bureau or Indian Health
Services, feared losing their jobs and mounted a successful referendum
campaign to stop the move, he says. After the failure tribal members
in favor of the switch gathered more support and embarked on an education
campaign. There was a second vote, and this time a majority favored
the new responsibilities.
Since its passage and as the arrangement has played over time, tribal
members are now happy they made the switch, Manning says. "Now
people are seeing that we’ve got more jobs and money,"
he said. That helps on a reservation with unemployment near 75 percent.
One place that money goes is towards health care. Older tribal members
and those with medical problems can get help here, instead of driving
to Mountain Home or Boise. The hospital on the reservation was scheduled
to be shut down, Manning says, but the tribe fought for its survival
in Congress and won.
"One nice thing about straddling two states is you have four
senators and two representatives," he says.
Newly elected Chairman Terry Gibson says health care is one of his
most important focuses. "We need to make sure our hospital is
accredited so we can take care of Medicare and Medicaid patients,"
Another part of that health picture includes the effects of dummy
bombs and other warfare practice done for training near the reservation
by the Mountain Home Air Force Base, Gibson says.
"I attribute our high rate of cancer to what is going on around
us," he says. Gibson himself has battled kidney cancer, losing
a rib and a kidney before gaining the upper hand on the disease. Overall,
the tribe has a high incident rate of cancer, he says.
Shoshone-Paiute Tribal Chairman
Terry Gibson at the Country
Cafe in Owyhee.
The tribe just recently participated in a dedication ceremony for
the bombing range. In 1992, the government wanted a range 15 miles
from the reservation border, on top of sacred sites. Instead, the
tribe and government settled on putting the Juniper Butte Bombing
Range, part of Mountain Home Air Force Base, further away from the
tribe and its critical areas.
Despite moving the range, the tribe still deals with the sonic booms
that occur three times a day from the military testing aircraft over
the area. Gibson said these planes sometimes fly 100 feet off the
ground and one sonic boom shook a house on the reservation off its
"There are a lot of harmful effects our people are going to suffer
because of this," Gibson says. He says the jets disrupt the rhythm
of nature that goes on in the desert and thinks more health problems
could be attributed to the military exercises.
Despite the tribe’s isolation, a few slivers of economic development
have begun to take form.
One of these includes a $2 million commercial center that would house
a grocery store, barbershop and retail center and be near the new
gas station. A juvenile detention center that would bring 14 jobs
to tribal members is also in the works, though shaky BIA funding for
operational expenses has put its future in jeopardy, former chairman
new fire station was recently built to accomodate Duck Valley
residents emergency situations.
Shoshone-Paiute Tribal Chairman
Gibson wants to attract Department of Defense contracts for manufacturing
jobs. He also plans to work to reclaim aboriginal land off Interstate
84 near Boise with hopes of building a casino twice as big as the
Coeur d’Alene Casino that would serve the populous Treasure
"It’s guaranteed to be successful in that location,"
Gibson says. Such a casino would provide 700 jobs to tribal members,
Unless such a plan takes off, the tribe will likely remain in relative
obscurity at the bottom of the state map. That suits most members
and, recognition or no, providing for members, present and future,
remains the goal of the tribe.
"To have a job and be secured, to have security for families
and to be comfortable is probably what I’d like to see for all
of our people," Cota says.