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Supreme Law: Tribal Leaders Discuss Treaty Rights Under New Administration

Members of Idaho’s Nez Perce tribe are concerned about their treaty rights under a new president. That was the topic of the day at a conference that opened Friday in Lewiston, Idaho.

An honor song from Lightning Creek drum group gave way to a discussion about the sovereign rights established by an 1855 treaty between the Nez Perce people and the U.S. government. Nez Perce Tribe General Council Chairman Gary Dorr gave opening remarks.

At one point, he paused and looked at me and said, “Do you -- Americans, non-tribal members -- know how the United States government is complying with the treaty?”

Dorr and other leaders are worried about treaty rights like hunting and fishing on traditional lands under the Trump administration. They also expressed concern for environmental conservation and the impact of climate change on traditional lands and culture.

According to Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, “all treaties made… under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land.”

“Read our treaty line by line, word for word. You’ll see how it’s being violated,” Dorr said.

“Our Treaty -- the Nez Perce Treaty -- about every word in the articles, especially our right to hunt, fish and gather, has been litigated in court and everyone of those words has been upheld in court in some way,” Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Member Rebecca Miles said.

“Now, when you think of the change in the environment, you already think you were not equal in the first place,” she added. “It all is starting to take from your basic way of life, your guaranteed way of life.”

Lightning Creek drum group opened the two-day conference on treaty rights and the environment in Lewiston, Idaho.
Emily Schwing / Northwest News Network
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Northwest News Network
Lightning Creek drum group opened the two-day conference on treaty rights and the environment in Lewiston, Idaho.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Emily Schwing
Emily Schwing comes to the Inland Northwest by way of Alaska, where she covered social and environmental issues with an Arctic spin as well as natural resource development, wildlife management and Alaska Native issues for nearly a decade. Her work has been heard on National Public Radio’s programs like “Morning Edition” and “All things Considered.” She has also filed for Public Radio International’s “The World,” American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” and various programs produced by the BBC and the CBC. She has also filed stories for Scientific American, Al Jazeera America and Arctic Deeply.