Despite protests and objections by an international human rights panel, the government auctioned off a herd of cattle formerly owned by two Western Shoshone sisters who owe nearly $3 million in grazing fees.
The Bureau of Land Management on Friday sold the 232 cattle for $59,262 to three unnamed out-of-state bidders who submitted faxed bids. Officials said the amount would not cover the cost of rounding up and impounding the cattle.
About 50 tribal members and state's rights activists and other protesters picketed outside the state BLM office here, waving signs that read "Don't Buy Stolen Cattle" and "BLM Cattle Rustlers."
The cattle were confiscated last month from longtime tribal activists Carrie and Mary Dann of Crescent Valley. They insist the land belongs to the Western Shoshones, not the government.
The Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had urged the government to cancel the sale until allegations of injustice could be reviewed.
BLM spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said the cattle were impounded as a last resort after the government tried unsuccessfully for years to negotiate a settlement with the Dann sisters.
Tribal lawyers said the government has an obligation to act consistently with the wishes of the 33-year-old human rights panel, which found in a preliminary ruling that the Danns' rights were being violated.
"Here we have the most respected human rights panel in the Americas telling the United States to halt this action, but they ignore them," said Julie Fishel, a lawyer for the Western Shoshone Defense Project.
"Legally and morally, the United States is wrong here. This is a denial of the human rights of the Western Shoshone people," she said.
It was the third time in 15 months that the BLM has confiscated and auctioned cattle in Nevada for trespassing on federal land without a grazing permit. Agency range specialists say the Danns' cattle were damaging federal land that has been legally allotted to neighboring ranchers.
Tribal members maintain the Ruby Balley Treaty of 1867 gives them title to the land, including the right to graze livestock on the land free from U.S. constraints.
Carrie Dann said the BLM had threatened to impound the cattle for three decades.
"We have been under this type of attack since 1975," she said. They are going to reduce me to an indigent. I will probably be on welfare next year."