The tragic history of how American Indians were treated by white men moving west went a long way Tuesday night toward explaining why the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes oppose a new airport on a potential site south of the Wood River Valley.
In a briefing that was alternately spellbinding and scholarly, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes' director of fish and game, Chad Colter, devoted 30 minutes at the eighth meeting of the Friedman Memorial Airport site selection committee building a case to eliminate consideration of a site on a Bureau of Land Management tract east of state Highway 75 and just north of the Blaine-Lincoln counties line.
Colter's basic thrust was that placing an airport on BLM land or any government land would violate rights of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes guaranteed by the 1868 Fort Bridger Treaty with the U.S. government
Article 4 of the treaty provides that Shoshone-Bannock tribal members "shall have the right to hunt on unoccupied lands of the U.S. so long as game may be found thereon, and so long as peace subsists among the whites and Indians on the borders of the hunting districts."
The tribes' original reservation of nearly 2 million acres in southeastern Idaho has been whittled back over the years to some 554,000 acres, Colter said. Any further shrinkage would be damaging to the tribes.
Headquartered at the Fort Hall Reservation, southwest of Blackfoot, the tribes have representatives on the site selection committee. One delegate, Carolyn Smith, a tribal cultural resources coordinator, told the committee and a roomful of attendees at the old Blaine County Courthouse that the tribes are "diligent in keeping their aboriginal rights."
Even before Colter made his presentation, chances of the BLM plot being designated for a new airport appeared remote. A BLM official told the site selection committee several months ago that the bureaucratic and environmental hurdles for using BLM land are unavoidably difficult, and even unlikely to be overcome.
Nevertheless, the committee asked the tribes to spell out their case.
Colter explained that the tribes continue to use treaty lands for hunting and fishing and harvesting native plants for meals as well as medicinal purposes.
Some of the tribes' projects, he explained, also are jointly conducted with federal and state environmental and conservation agencies.
One oddity was pointed out by Colter. Government officials who wrote the Fort Bridger Treaty erroneously referred broadly to the "Kansas Prairie" as part of the treaty lands of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, rather than the correct name for "Camas Prairie" that surrounds present-day Fairfield.
In his slide presentation, Colter not only dwelled on the treaty provisions, but also on the colorful history of tribal elders and pre-reservation days.
A substantial portion of Colter's presentation is on the tribes' Web site: http://www.shoshonebannocktribes.com/fhbc.html