On May 4, Cassie Camas and her mother, Lovelle Brown, stood and watched helplessly as a group of men with a front end loader, a few dumpsters and a U-Haul demolished their travel trailer at the Winnemucca Indian Colony.
The colony’s lands, including a 20-acre settlement of a few dozen people just outside Winnemucca, are at the heart of a decades-long fight involving the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the tribal council and colony residents. Disagreements over who is a valid member of the council and thus has authority over the land reach back to the 1916 census and then-President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to grant a 320-acre parcel of land to homeless Paiute and Shoshone Native Americans. A more recent dispute between the council and residents over who has the legal right to live at the colony and who is subject to eviction is also ongoing as a lawsuit plays out.
“I’m scared because this morning, I woke up and I heard the big truck come down the street and I was like, ‘Oh God,’” Camas said in an interview with The Nevada Independent on May 5. “You can’t go to the store and get something to eat or whatever because you’re afraid to leave and afraid to come back to nothing.”
The demolitions and disposals that began this spring, funded by grants from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, are part of an effort by colony leaders to spur economic growth and clean up the area including what they say are abandoned trailers sometimes used as storehouses for illegal drugs. The colony council contends that the 20 acres of land Camas, Brown and other residents live on is unsanitary, has hazardous waste and that the pandemic necessitates cleanup sooner rather than later.
“No economic development can take place to better the