KAMIAH, Idaho – Nez Perce leaders referred to the tribe as the land’s spiritual “gatekeepers” as discussions of the ongoing megaload saga dominated the first of three days of meetings of the tribe.
Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chairman Silas Whitman told the assembly during the twice-yearly General Council meeting at the Wa A Yas Community Center that the “gate” will remain shut.
After the morning’s election of General Council officers, almost the entirety of the afternoon’s discussion centered on strategies to halt the Omega Morgan shipments and future megaloads throughout Indian Country. The council retreated behind closed doors for an executive session for the bulk of that discussion.
While other megaload opponents might talk about the environment’s intrinsic value, Whitman said the intrinsic value for the Nez Perce is built into their treaty rights.
“Everything here is ours – it’s never been for sale,” he said, pounding his fist on the podium.
Whitman urged the council, which consists of every Nez Perce 18 or older, to stop the megaloads in any way they could so as to not allow the historical violations of sovereignty to repeat themselves.
“We cannot repeat that again,” he said. “Make them take us all on.”
Earlier in the day, Mary Jane Oatman asked pointed questions of the panel of three Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee members: Whitman, Treasurer McCoy Oatman and Daniel Kane.
“Where were you?” she directly asked her cousin, McCoy Oatman, the only executive committee member not arrested during the four days of protests.
She added that the committee should “stop with the smoke and mirrors” of arguing that the U.S. Forest Service should have directly consulted them about the shipments, citing an Aug. 30, 2010, letter thanking Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell for formal consultation on Aug. 24, 2010.
McCoy Oatman said he was on the Salmon River with family during the protests, a 13-year tradition. While he did not address the letter before the assembly, he said afterward it was sent in regard to the previous Conoco-Phillips loads, not the current situation.
“Two separate processes,” Oatman said of the effort, which has become about the larger issue. “Now the whole thing has evolved into something else, where it’s to look at megaloads.”
Countless tribal members gave impassioned testimony about the August protests. Some criticized the Nez Perce Tribal Police’s handling of the arrests, but the tribe’s Executive Director Rebecca Miles personally thanked law enforcement for acting professionally in a compromising situation.
Also Thursday, General Council Resolutions Committee members questioned the executive committee’s handling of resolutions proposed by tribal members and submitted for consideration by the resolutions committee.
“We need to start holding each other accountable,” DelRae Kipp said in a statement to the executive committee. Kipp was re-elected Thursday to the resolutions committee.
While she said she is proud of her leaders, she wants them to listen more closely to the will of the people. The executive committee can either approve, reject or send a resolution to a subcommittee. Too often, Kipp said, they have chosen the latter and a resolution has been lost.
“I don’t know where it goes,” she said.
Resolutions Committee Chairwoman Mary Tall Bull, who was also re-elected to her committee seat, asked why the executive committee had not definitively acted on several past resolutions. One resolution had to do with changing policies regarding alcohol use and drug testing, and another with an audit of executive committee travel expenses.
“We have the right to know. It should not be secretive or confidential because that’s our money, too.” Tall Bull said. “You are being insubordinate to the Nez Perce people.”
In response to the resolutions committee’s request for travel information, McCoy Oatman said the resolutions committee is not an investigative body and only a conduit to the General Council. He did, however, think the executive committee could respond to resolutions more promptly.
“I think that’s something we have to work on,” he said.