Utah and Arizona Pass Bills to Seize Federal Land; Sioux Indians Demand the Same

Monday, May 07, 2012
Conservative legislators in Utah and Arizona have recently passed new laws demanding that the federal government turn over control of federally-owned land in those states or face state taxation. Although legal experts point out that the constitutional prohibition on state taxation of federal land will prevent these laws from having any actual effect, supporters say federal regulation harms industries like ranching, timber and mining, and has led to overgrown forests and massive wildfires.
They argue that the federal government owns too much land in their states–it owns about 42% of Arizona and 60% of Utah–and that most of it, excluding National Parks and military bases, should be “returned” to the states, which are closer to the “pioneer spirit” of Westerners. Utah is demanding the return of about 30 million acres and Arizona 48,000 square miles (but not military bases and national parks).
But those seeking the return of federal land to state control may find their claims pre-empted by a group whose claims predate those who hearken back to the pioneer spirit. Native American groups throughout the West have long argued that millions of acres of Western land were illegally stolen from them, and now they too are arguing for return. Mount Rushmore, for example, is located in the Black Hills, which the Sioux people consider sacred and to which they have territorial claims based on an 1868 treaty. Although the U.S. seized the land after gold was discovered, in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the land seizure was illegal and ordered the government to pay compensation, which the Sioux have rejected, continuing to demand the return of the now public lands.
Native Americans have even sought help from the United Nations, which recently sent James Anaya, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, on a 12-day visit, during which he met with representatives of indigenous peoples. Although Anaya did not endorse specific Native demands for land return, he did agree that “securing the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands is of central importance to indigenous peoples’ socioeconomic development, self-determination, and cultural integrity.”
-Matt Bewig
To Learn More:
Fear of Losing Iconic Western Culture Spurs Fight (by Michelle L. Price and Josh Loftin, Associated Press)



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