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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.”