Water Protector Legal Collective
Sandra Freeman, Staff Attorney
Nevada Legal Services
Alexandra Rawlings, Directing Attorney, Indian Law Project and Farmworker Project
December 7, 2022
Indigenous Elders Evicted and Banished from Winnemucca Indian Colony Without Trial
Winnemucca Indian Colony, Paiute and Shoshone lands, Nevada, U.S.A — 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 nearby 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 years of litigious disputes, harassment, and violence over who has authority over the Winnemucca Indian Colony. See generally Winnemucca Indian Colony v. United States of America Department of the Interior ex rel Ayers, (9th Cir. No. 18017121).
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 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 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.
On Friday, December 2, 2022, a hearing was held wherein the Winnemucca Tribal Court summarily evicted the Elders and Residents without a trial, banished several people, and found for the Tribal Council without giving the Elders and Residents the benefit of a trial. As the proceedings were going on, some of the Elders and Residents were excluded from the zoom hearing when the decision was announced.
The official court order outlines many issues including: the denial of Defendant-Residents’ requests for dismissal, summary judgment granted allowing the disputed tribal council to evict and banish Elders and Residents, and evicted Elders and Residents will need to pay over $30,000 each in fines. The tribal court also ordered most Elders and Residents to leave the homes they have lived in for decades by Friday, December 9, 2022.
The conclusions and orders entered by the Court are incorrect and based on evidence not disclosed during the discovery or litigation process; 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. WPLC and NLS continue to represent the Elders and Residents and are seeking an immediate stay of the decision and eviction order while the case continues on appeal.
Regarding the Court’s eviction order, Paiute Elder Resident JJ Ayer said “I am of seven generations of Native people that have lived on the Winnemucca Indian Colony. I was born and raised in Winnemucca, and my family alone outnumbers the whole list of eligible voters; when I was on the Tribal council we had 179 eligible voters, now none of the people who have lived here for over 40 years can even vote. This is wrong in every way, most of us are disabled and old with no other home but here and now we are banished from our land.”
For more information on the history of the Winnemucca Indian Colony, please visit:
“‘Land protectors’ step in as Winnemucca Indian Colony dispute simmers” February 2022
“Residents fear loss of homes during disputed clean-up effort at Winnemucca Indian Colony” May 2020
About WPLC and NLS:
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.