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Winnemucca Indian Colony Update: Elders and Residents file appeal and Elders’ Homes Demolished

Media Committee, Winnemucca Evicted and Banished Elders/Residents Support Team

Water Protector Legal Collective

Sandra Freeman, Staff Attorney

Nevada Legal Services

Alexandra Rawlings, Directing Attorney, Indian Law Project and Farmworker Project

Vermont National Lawyers Guild

Kira Kelley, Chairperson

March 7, 2023

Winnemucca Indian Colony Update:

Elders and Residents file appeal and Elders’ Homes Demolished

Indigenous residents of the Winnemucca Indian Colony were already forbidden from returning to their homes; now some of them no longer have homes to come back to.

Winnemucca Indian Colony, Paiute and Shoshone lands, Nevada, U.S.A. — On March 2, 2023, two Elders’ homes at the Winnemucca Indian Colony were demolished without warning. A couple days later one of the Elders reported their garage was also demolished on March 4, 2023. The disputed Tribal Council has not made any public statements about the authority behind the demolition, nor did they make any statements on Thursday or give direct notice to the residents of the demolished homes. The resident owners of these homes, along with more than a dozen Indigenous Elders and Colony members, were banished from the Colony without trial in December of 2022. The banished residents have been in litigation challenging their evictions for months prior to these demolitions. The evictions are still under litigation, with an appeal currently pending before the Inter-Tribal Court of Appeals of Nevada (ITCAN); the March 2, 2023 demolition happened less than 48 hours following filing of the opening appellate brief on behalf of the elders.

The Elders’ appeal asks the ITCAN to overturn the December 2, 2022 tribal court order summarily evicting Elders and Residents from the colony and forbidding them from return to their homes. BIA officers and private security acting on the behest of the disputed Tribal council threatened banished individuals with arrest and/or criminal charges of trespassing if they attempted to return home and then claimed to pass a tribal Resolution banning all members of the public from entering the Colony to possibly assist. The tribal council has extended this vague and unlawful Resolution until May, effectively declaring martial law on the colony except those working for or otherwise aligned with the disputed Tribal Council. The disputed Tribal council and their agents repeatedly obstructed efforts to secure, maintain, and retrieve Elders’ and residents’ property, leading to burst pipes, flooded homes, danger and uncertainty for people’s pets, and banished individuals being rendered houseless. The demolition of the two homes on Thursday, March 2, 2023, marks an escalation of the damage to individuals’ property that has been ongoing.

“Once the eviction was handed down on Dec 2nd 2022, in the afternoon, we were given a week to pack (by Dec 9th we had to be out). I am disabled and my son had just broken his hand. So, I packed the most sentimental and valuable items, then our everyday important things. The last day and a half [of that week] when my help arrived on their days off, we loaded all that was available to me. I left behind [two thirds] of my belongings. When my daughter died, a shed was filled with all her and my 2 grandkid’s belongings, left behind. Most importantly I had my daughter's ashes placed on that lot. I packed up maybe 1/3rd of my stuff. All of my daughters' households from her passing her ashes are still there. So sacred ground is what I left behind,” says Elena Loya, one of the banished individuals whose home was destroyed.

She continued: “How can this council override a court order that allowed my family to be on my lot. They have evicted only some people and are making up laws as they go. They have been ordered to do things and are not complying with these orders. Plus we the residents have been denied due process of the law; the trial was canceled and instead they immediately ordered the evictions.” This sentiment echoes the statements of WPLC and NLS attorneys: “The denial of a trial is an affront to legal fairness and due process, and many elements of the Court’s order are in contravention of international human rights standards and the rights and protections guaranteed by the Winnemucca Constitution, the Indian Civil Rights Act, and commonly understood notions of Due Process. The past year of litigation has involved intense, ongoing repression of the Elders, Residents, and the people who support them.”

The history that these statements reference is a complex one. The Winnemucca Indian Colony is an Indian Colony created by the 1916 executive order of Woodrow Wilson and an act of 1928 Congress for homeless Paiute and Shoshone Indians to live and work near the developing railroad and town in far northwest Nevada. While the history of the Colony is complex, it is undisputed that Residents engaged in self-governance of their homelands until the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and others asserted involvement in the group’s affairs. The community has suffered from decades of litigious disputes, harassment, and violence over who has authority over the Winnemucca Indian Colony.

In November 2021, the disputed Interim “Rojo” Council filed the first case in the newly-created Winnemucca Tribal Court seeking the eviction of fourteen long-term Paiute and Shoshone Elders and Residents from their homelands. Attorneys from Nevada Legal Services and Water Protector Legal Collective, as well as attorneys in private practice, have been representing these Elders and Residents. Attorneys, Elders, and Supporters alike believed that there would be a trial of the eviction claims in December 2022 wherein the Elders and Residents could present evidence of the history, relations, rights, and customs allowing them to remain on the land they have occupied and lived on, some for generations.

Instead, on December 2, 2022, the tribal court evicted the Elders and Residents without trial. The court order denied Defendant-Residents’ requests for dismissal, summary judgment was granted allowing the disputed tribal council to evict and banish Elders and Residents, and evicted Elders and Residents were faced with over $30,000 each in possible fines. The order was appealed to the Inter-Tribal Court of Appeals (ITCAN). ITCAN denied a stay of the eviction order pending the outcome of the appeal; the Elders’ and Residents’ Opening Brief was filed on February 28, 2023.

Banished Elders and residents have been struggling to survive without access to their homes, their ancestral land, and their community as they wait for the appeals process. Now at least two people no longer have a home to go back to, and they wonder who may be next.

To support housing and direct aid efforts for banished Winnemucca Indian Colony Elders and residents you can donate to: @WIC-Housing-Support on Venmo.

For past legal updates on the situation at Winnemucca please visit:

About WPLC, NLS, and Vermont NLG:

Born out of the #NoDAPL movement, the Water Protector Legal Collective is an Indigenous-led legal nonprofit that provides support and advocacy for Indigenous peoples and Original Nations, the Earth, and climate justice movements.

It is the Mission of Nevada Legal Services to strengthen the community by ensuring fairness and providing equal access to justice for low-income Nevadans. NLS has the responsibility to advance legal aid in search for justice for those who need it the most.

The Vermont National Lawyers Guild is composed of movement lawyers and legal workers, supporting grassroots activists to elevate human and environmental rights over property interests.

Photos of the demolition:

The last photos Elena Loya took of her home, the way she left it back in December 2023:

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