Law | Trust

DC Circuit dismisses challenge to Western Shoshone trust bill





The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday ordered the dismissal of a lawsuit that challenges the distribution of a $185 million trust fund.

Congress passed a law in 2004 to distribute the money to individual Western Shoshones. The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe of Nevada filed a lawsuit, claiming that the trust fund belongs to tribal governments who should decide what to do with it.

The D.C. Circuit did not express its views on that claim. Instead, the court said the lawsuit must be dismissed because it was filed by a tribal council that is not recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"In these circumstances, we owe deference to the judgment of the Executive Branch as to who represents a tribe," the court said in a unanimous decision.

The circumstances could change, the DC Circuit noted. The group behind the case -- the Kennedy faction -- has a lawsuit pending that challenges the BIA's decision to recognize a different set of leaders -- the Gholson faction.

The money in the $185 million trust fund comes from an Indian Claims Commission award. In 1972, the ICC said the Western Shoshone Nation was owed money for the loss of lands that were promised by the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley.

The Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Act requires the BIA to distribute most of the trust fund on a per capita basis to individual Western Shoshones. The BIA has provided regular reports on the status of the fund.

Turtle Talk has posted briefs from the case, Timbisha Shoshone Tribe v. Salazar.

DC Circuit Decision:
Timbisha Shoshone Tribe v. Salazar (May 15, 2012)

Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Act:
Bill Report | H.R.884 | S.618

Related Stories:
Timbisha Shoshone Tribe sues to stop trust fund distribution (6/14)