Reader's view: Permission for megaloads ignored Nez Perce treaty rights

September 8, 2013 

Chief Joseph once compared the signing of a treaty to one person buying another person’s horse by obtaining permission from the owner’s neighbor. One of the essential parties to the transaction is excluded so another party can have its way. This is the all-too-familiar circumstance the Nez Perce Tribe finds itself in with the transport of “megaloads” along U.S. 12.

“Permission” for these megaloads to cross the Nez Perce Reservation and the wild and scenic corridor of the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers was given over the objection of the U.S. Forest Service and the tribe without tribal consultation or the completion of a corridor impacts study of harm to the treaty — reserved rights of the Nez Perce Tribe and the corridor itself.

U.S. 12 runs along an ancient route known to the Nez Perce Tribe. It later became the route of Lewis and Clark and the highway once had that name.

This road along the Nez Perce trail is incomparable in its beauty, as well as its cultural value to the Nez Perce people. Its historical and cultural importance to the U.S. public is extraordinary. People who travel this route can feel its immense intrinsic value; the state of Idaho touts the unique nature and appeal of this corridor for tourism and recreation.

However, some Canadian and outside interests look at this route and see dollar signs in transport savings — for them. We are told of the wonderful opportunities of commerce this will bring.

The Nez Perce Tribe knows better. We have heard similar promises before. The travel of more than 1,000 of these megaloads, as is rumored, through one of the most pristine and spectacular areas in America is not genuine commerce. It is your Wall Street neighbor driving across your lawn, so that he can get to work five minutes faster and make a little more money — for him.

The tribe has made its position on this issue known to the United States and the state of Idaho. The tribe has been ignored by the outside interests who will reap profits at the expense of the region’s resources. This exclusion led to frustration that spilled over into acts of civil disobedience so the tribal voice was heard. The tribe refuses to be excluded any longer. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday in U.S. District Court, Boise.

A thorough analysis of the impacts of these loads must occur before — not after — they are shipped through the corridor. The tribe will hold the Forest Service accountable to protect this area as Congress and the courts have directed under multiple laws. The tribe refuses to allow third parties to circumvent that process.

To be clear, the tribe does not believe megaload traffic creates sustainable jobs or economic infrastructure for this region and the tribe is opposed to the transformation of U.S. 12 into an industrial corridor.

The Nez Perce Tribe, which in providing over 1,300 jobs is one of the largest employers in North Central Idaho, is not opposed to commerce or economic development. Chief Joseph said the Nez Perce Tribe and its people are of this land and are committed to this land. This commitment is clearly demonstrated in our efforts to create commerce and economic development in the Lewiston/Clarkston Valley through the promotion of livable wage employment, the development of tourism and the building of permanent infrastructure. In addition, the tribe has donated more than $3 million to state education in the last 10 years.

This commitment to the local economy will continue. With that comes our commitment to our tribal homeland and to preserve this region from becoming something it was never intended to be.

Silas C. Whitman is chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee.

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