Calling it the greatest development for today’s generation, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Chairman Arlan D. Melendez expressed delight as the Colony learned on Friday morning that President Barack Obama has signed to the Nevada Native Nations Lands Act.
“All parties in the local and surrounding areas will benefit from this legislation,” Chairman Melendez said.
Last week, Congress voted to approve H.R. 2455. This federal law will transfer about 71,000 acres of land that is currently under federal control to six Great Basin Indian Tribes.
The tribes have been working with Nevada’s Congressional delegation for four years on this legislation. The idea for this transfer commenced when Congressman Mark Amodei brought Indian Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Don Young to Nevada and the tribes discussed with Amodei and Young their need for more land.
The coalition of tribes in Nevada have some of the smallest land bases in Indian country and this important legislation will add land to their reservations which will be put to beneficial use for housing, economic development and cultural activities.
Chairman Melendez whole-heartily agrees.
“Currently, we are completely landlocked,” Chairman Melendez said. “We cannot build one more house on our original 20 acres.”
However, Chairman Melendez believes housing is just one of many benefits the transfer of land provides.
The Nevada Native Nations Lands Act gives the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony jurisdiction of 13,434 continuing acreage to its Hungry Valley land base.
The Senators Reid and Heller navigated S.1436 through the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on October 21, 2015 and to Senate passage on April 14, 2016. Nevada Congressmen Mark Amodei, Joe Heck, and Cresent Hardy introduced the House companion (H.R.2733), and navigated it to House-passage on June 7, 2016. On Sept. 29, the Senate passed the Nevada Native Nations Lands Act via a hotline vote.
Senator Reid played a key role in negotiating with Bureau of Land Management and helping to fine tune the legislation and Senator Heller worked with his Republican colleagues to ensure passage.
“All the tribes greatly appreciate the hard work on the part of the Nevada Congressional delegation in getting this bill to final passage,” Chairman Melendez said. “This is a truly historic time for our tribes and a federal law which will benefit our people for years to come.”
Currently, the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service administers nearly 48 million acres of public lands in Nevada. The acreage the six tribes are asking to be transferred is just 0.17 percent of the over 80 percent of the land in Nevada which is owned by the federal government.
Chairman Melendez said that the RSIC and all the tribes look forward to working with their partners in local government to ensure the best use of this land to benefit tribal and neighboring communities.
“Native people are one with the land and it raises our spirit,” Chairman Melendez said. “We appreciate that our national leaders, Congressman Mark Amodei, Senator Dean Heller, Senator Harry Reid—they understanding that.”
In addition, the land the RSIC hopes to transfer also holds cultural significance with several landscape features which are used for traditional religious practices and a source of medicinal plants.
Chairman Melendez said that securing the additional acreage in Hungry Valley will allow the tribe—Paiute, Shoshone and Washoe people, to teach their children their spiritual heritage in an appropriate setting.
“We want to teach our children our values by using the land like it is supposed to be used.”
This summer, Senator Reid provided a statement at the Senate Committee hearings and in his remarks he said that land is lifeblood to Native Americans and this bill provides space for housing, economic development, traditional uses and cultural protection. Senator Heller, who introduced the companion bill heard by the Senate, outlined his commitment to the tribes.
“I’m proud this important bipartisan legislation empowering Nevada’s tribal leaders to make important decisions affecting their communities will soon become law,” Senator Heller said.
The five other tribes involved are the Te-Moak, Shoshone Paiute Tribes of Duck Valley, the Pyramid Lake Paiutes, the Summit Lake Paiutes and the Ft. McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe.
Outline of Nevada Native Nations Land Act
Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe
Conveys 19,094 acres of BLM land to be held in trust for the tribe.
Duck Valley Shoshone Paiute Tribes
Conveys 82 acres of Forest Service land to be held in trust for the tribe.
Summit Lake Paiute Tribe
Conveys 941 acres of BLM land to be held in trust for the tribe.
Reno-Sparks Indian Colony
Conveys 13,434 acres of BLM land to be held in trust for the tribe.
Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe
Conveys 6,357 acres of BLM land to be held in trust for the tribe.
Duckwater Shoshone Tribe
Conveys 31,229 acres of BLM land to be held in trust for the tribe.