Mary and Carrie Dann of the Western Shoshone Nation

(1993, USA)

...for exemplary courage and perseverance in asserting the rights of indigenous people to their land.

About

The sisters Mary and Carrie Dann firmly campaigned to assert the rights of their indigenous people, the Western Shoshone Nation. They committed themselves to the political and legal battle to retain their ancestral lands, threatened, among others, by nuclear tests carried out by the US. The sisters Dann also dedicated themselves to preserve the traditional way of life of the Shoshone people, fighting against repeated attempts by the Bureau of Land Management to impound their livestock.

Contact Details

Carrie Dann
Box 56
Beowawe, NV 89821
USA

Biography

The sisters Mary and Carrie Dann are traditional Western Shoshone women and the major leaders in their people's political and legal battle to retain their ancestral lands. Since 1972, they have been waging a battle with the US government through litigation and civil disobedience.

The Territory of the Western Shoshone Nation as defined in the Treaty of Ruby Valley, which was concluded with the US government in 1868, included two-thirds of the State of Nevada and small portions of California, Idaho and Utah. This treaty was not a treaty of cession, but of peace and friendship, granting the United States safe passage through Shoshone territory and allowing (gold) mining on their land.

The Treaty of Ruby Valley - like other treaties between the United States government and Indian nations - has been abrogated and undermined by US domestic law. Through different legislative acts almost 90 per cent of Western Shoshone land and resources gradually came under the control of the US Department of the Interior and its branches like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the Department of Energy. In 1951 the Nevada atomic test site was established, where the United States and Britain conducted more than 100 atmospheric tests - more than have been carried out anywhere else in the world. In all, 950 nuclear bombs have been detonated on Shoshone land since 1951, the most recent in April 1990.

In 1979 the US Court of Claims awarded $26 million for the taking of Western Shoshone land, but more than 80 per cent of the Western Shoshone people voted against accepting the money. Instead, the award was accepted by the Department of Interior. Since the Western Shoshone did not sell or cede their land, they requested that the US observe the Treaty of Ruby Valley. In December 1991, the US 9th Circuit Court ruled that the claims award, despite its non-acceptance by the Shoshone, had nevertheless extinguished their subsistence rights - for example, to hunt, fish and gather food - which were guaranteed in the 1868 Treaty.

Mary and Carrie Dann have their ranch in Crescent Valley in the heart of Western Shoshone territory. In 1973 they were approached by the BLM to apply for grazing permits and to pay grazing fees. They argued that their cattle were grazing on Western Shoshone territory, yet the following year they were sued for trespassing. Since then, with full backing from the Western Shoshone National Council, the Dann sisters have struggled to maintain their way of life against repeated attempts by the BLM to impound their livestock.

Mary Dann died in 2005 in an accident.

Speeches

Acceptance Speech by Carrie Dann

December 9th, 1993

Distinguished guests,
Honorable Members of Parliament,
ladies and gentlemen.

I am grateful and honored to be here in your country.

First I want to thank the Right Livelihood Award committee and all the people that worked hard to have a traditional indigenous person as one of your recipients of this award. I am just one of the many indigenous persons that work on the right to live on our land in our traditional ways. The right to practice our religious belief as our Creator instructed us.

I am from the indigenous nation of the Western Shoshone People, the heart land of the Great Basin, also known as Nevada. I was born and raised there in our traditional ways. I am a hard working person raising livestock on the Western Shoshone land. I have spent most of my life around livestock and crops.

We, the human children of this Earth, all have our own cultures and traditions, languages, and we all like to keep them, as they identify us as one of the many kinds of peoples of the earth.

The indigenous people believed that this earth (land) is our Mother, as Sweden, a small part of Europe, is your Mother. Our Mother, the earth (land) gives us all the necessities of life. It feeds us, gives us clothes, shelter, and cradles us.

Our indigenous situation now, today, is such that there is no way to forget or ignore the past. To do so would be to ignore the current situation. Knowing that it is maybe just about half who still live on the land where our ancestors lived thousands and thousands of years ago. Many of these nations still maintain our traditions that have survived numerous atrocities, and the teachings still go on today.

I come from what you know as the United States of America, which is built around many national identities. You hear words that stress strong images of freedom, liberty, opportunities and pursuit of happiness.

I suppose the classic knowledge of America is that it is a melting pot, with people of all nationalities, a place where people seek dreams of personal freedom. Coming from their own oppressive communities to join in a supposed nation built around constitutional rights and humanity.

We, the Indigenous People, have withstood wave after wave of foreigners, starting with the Spanish, English, Dutch, French and most nations of the world, coming to our country. They called it a New World. However, it was - and still is - populated by indigenous people. People that had a civilization, lived in harmony with the natural surroundings, with respect towards all forms of life. They even welcomed the Spaniards when they first arrived, as Columbus described it, it was paradise, that is, up until they found gold statuettes, and that they were not of the Christian faith. Since that time, the indigenous of the Western Hemisphere have been described as savages, heathens, infidels and basically labelled as one of our relatives, the four legged, the wolf or coyote.

Upon finding the gold statuettes, the Spaniards went wild, destroyed that civilization. "This gold fever has not stopped yet." Today the country of the Western Shoshone people is being torn up in the name of gold. Today millions of gallons of the precious water is pumped to get to the microscopic gold deposits. Chemicals like cyanide, very dangerous, is used to extract this mineral that has caused destruction of civilized nations, and now it is being destructive to our Mother, the earth.

Any one can be an American, but, look beneath the hard surface, there are large numbers of indigenous people, who are not recognized as people by political leaders of the US. There is the court system that refuses to recognize people with land rights, the justice department, the attorneys of the justice department. Still to this day they argue that indigenous people only have the right to hunt and gather, the same way that our relative the coyote only has a right to hunt and gather food for his subsistence. Again according to the court system in the United States, we do not even have the right to hunt and gather for our subsistence, because of the Supreme Court decision in the United States versus Dann.

To most indigenous thinking people, the United States is not a melting pot; it is a boiling mess. No longer do we have the clear blue skies, but acid rain, maybe soon cyanide and nuclear rain, destroying life on land and water. No longer clear cool waters, but outrageous pollution destroying all forms of water life - believe it or not folks, if we cannot drink our once clear blue waters, we are the next to go! The nuclear test site will be contaminated by the nuclear testing for thousands of years. To my way of thinking nuclear testing is not national security, but national death sentence for us, our children, the unborn and to all that we know as life.

It is my truthful opinion, folks, this is no longer a land of opportunity, it is a place overrun with regulations - ACTS - for indigenous people, that robs the most common people and is surely headed toward a centralized economic catastrophe, if not a political dictatorship.

The United States and multi-corporations under any name - of law or policy, looking for gold, uranium, coal, oil and so on, have intruded on the land of our indigenous people, and go on in the same way as they always have. Their methods have changed little since they used outright slaughter or some form of violent assault, germ warfare, deliberately introducing smallpox etc., and now by legal manipulations separating our people from our aboriginal land where we have our homes.

In 1863,  the United States of America and the Western Shoshone Nation signed a treaty. A treaty of peace and friendship, known as the Ruby Valley Treaty. This treaty allowed the US certain right-of way through Western Shoshone country. This treaty did not cede title - let me repeat - DID NOT CEDE TITLE to any portion of the land. Since 1863 there has been no amendments or changes in this treaty. This treaty is still in its original form and still in effect and good.

THE 1887 DAWES ACT. A racist and pedigree act, this act is very foreign in thought, introduced as a liberal reform. The ultimate motive and real purpose - and effect  - was to break down the traditional way of communal stewardship of the land. Those that participated were forced into accepting US citizenship, so that they could sell their land to whites for cash, guns or liquor. As a result of this act, over 2/3 of Indian land changed ownership to white people.

THE 1924 CITIZENSHIP ACT. Supposedly, if you did not become citizen under the Dawes Act, this was the death blow to indigenous people's sovereignty. 

THE WHEELER-HOWARD ACT and THE 1934 REORGANIZATION ACT. These acts were drafted without indigenous people's knowledge and input. They were imposed on indigenous people by US government to give them a final blow and destroy them once and for all. The traditional governments would now be replaced by tribal council government, which was - and is - structured and modelled after corporate boards, US-style, and completely under the control of the US, the Department of the Interior - formerly under the Department of War! These acts divided the indigenous people into two camps - the traditonals and the IRA:s. The IRA:s tribal councils are known as puppets of the American government. A handful of people was picked and trained by the BIA. They were indoctrinated in the values and morals of egotistic, racist, white male Americans.

These so called IRA Indian governments started to waltz around to the US government's music, jumping at any opportunity to make deals underhandedly with multi-corporations. In some cases the US alone made deals with these multi-corporations for native people's resources. Gold, coal, uranium, oil etc., and now MRS and nuclear waste. Nuclear testing - why does the Department of Energy (DOE) target Indian land today, dangling money before our noses. Is it because we, the indigenous live in poverty, at the very lowest economic step of the ladder? While the alleged trustee, the Department of the Interior, through the BIA, encourages the Indians to accept the waste that no one wants. In the Western Shoshone country measures are being taken to build the biggest nuclear waste dump, regardless of all of the earthquake faults that are present there - and the Western Shoshone do not want it.

Now the INDIAN CLAIMS COMMISSION ACT (ICC) of 1948. The ICC was a commission, not a court of law. The ICC did not, and does not have the authority to abrogate or extinguish land title.

Though my understanding of the English language is limited, the function of the ICC was to compensate Indians for damaged land, and land ceded by agreement. It did not have the authority to extinguish land title.

The ICC was drafted by the Wilkinson law firm (the same law firm that had many Indian clients). The attorneys from this law firm allegedly represented many Indian individual people. I understand that a contingency fee of ten per cent would be paid to the attorneys.

Because of this, the attorneys went far beyond their described duties. Since the ICC was not empowered to extinguish their land title, the claims attorney would stipulate that taking had occurred when there was no taking. The attorneys did not represent the Western Shoshone people, they had only pecuniary interests. They therefore argued with us, intimidated us, lied to us and simply just screwed us, while the so called trustee, the Department of the Interior acted in collusion with this fiasco.

The attorneys had thus represented the Temoak Bands - IRA tribal government - against the wishes of the majority of the Shoshone population.

On October 16, 1962 the ICC entered an order finding that the Western Shoshone did indeed hold aboriginal title to our land, extending from Northern Nevada to Death Valley, California. That very same year, however, the Attorneys of the Justice Department and the alleged attorneys involved with the BIA and the Secretary of the Interior acting as trustee for the Temoak Bands came down with a "somehow, sometime" date of taking, also known as gradual encroachment of whites and others. Could "others" be the US government?

The word taking is repulsive to me. In my lifetime I have lived through World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War all in the name of democracy. Yet we, the Indigenous People, do not have the right to be treated as humans, let alone have constitutional rights in the US, which is the alleged protector of human rights, enforcers of democracy. I wonder what carpet the US government swept these rights under when it came to us? What happened to the US Constitution that reads: "Treaties are supreme law of the land." Every judge must recognize this as the such.

The contract of the attorneys had not been renewed by Temoak Bands since 1964. In 1965, the Claims Attorneys substituted the Western Shoshone Claims Committee, an unauthorized group, for their clients, The Temoak Bands.

The years 1965-1977, the Claims Attorneys manipulated the Temoak Bands, under the Claims Committee, with one person, usually, as a "yes" person, for most of the destructive acts against their clients, the Temoak Bands. In 1976, the Temoak Bands took their destiny into their own hands. They fired the Claims Attorneys and wrote a stinging letter of rebuke to the BIA, the Secretary of the Interior, for its acts of Genocide against the Western Shoshone People.

Regardless of what the Temoak Bands did, the claims go on.

In 1979, the Secretary of the Interior and the BIA again accepted 26 million dollars on behalf of the Temoak Bands of the Western Shoshone without consulting with any Indian group. They must simply have labelled the Western Shoshone as mentally incompetent - or either we must have been completely stupid or something, or maybe just plain babies. However, according to the US law a trustee is supposed to see to that the ward is not damaged or hurt. 

To destroy a religious belief and to destroy a race of people with traditions and culture - is that not damage? I strongly believe that the United States for many years has systematically and deliberately, through it acts and actions, made moves to destroy our ways and leave us with nothing.

If indeed the US took our land, extinguished treaty and our land rights - this is genocide.

Mary and Carrie Dann were denied all Constitutional guarantees given all US citizens - citizens under the 1924 Act.

Mary and Carrie Dann had been using the Western Shoshone land for their subsistence, as did our people for generation after generation. We were, however, not turning to agriculture - we were raising livestock and using the Western Shoshone land within the Treaty of Ruby Valley.

Our goal was to actually have the so called court of law, the judicial system look at what we felt was a crime of genocide against the Western Shoshone people under the ICC Act. We also felt that the Western Shoshone people's right to life was denied under the ICC. It is a violation of the Treaty of Ruby Valley.

Today our resistance is based on the Creator's Law, not on the rule of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The US continues its epical acts of genocide, betrayals, fraud and harsh atrocities against the indigenous people under the banner of law.

What happened to the constitutional right to liberty, property, where Indians are concerned? What happened to the Human Rights of the Indigenous People of the Americas? How can the US talk about other nations without even a glance at its own treatment of the Indigenous People?

Since 1973, we have lived under the consistent threat, stress, harassment, and belligerence of the BLM. In my own opinion, the Secretary of the Interior is a "double agent". The "Indians' trustee" and at the same time my prosecutor - a clear conflict of interests. It seems to my savage mind that all departments under the Department of the Interior are supposed to protect our rights, if truly the Secretary of the Interior is our trustee.

The BLM has violated the Western Shoshone National Council (the traditional Western Shoshone government) three times: twice on April 10, 1992 and again in the fall of 1992. On November 18, 1992 the federal police and Eureka County Sheriff's Department, complete with search and rescue teams invaded my land without valid jurisdiction. On this occasion Cliff, my brother, threatened to burn himself, because as he said: "To take away our land is to take away our life and livelihood."

After pouring gasoline on himself, he walked towards the trucks that were hauling the livestock where he was attacked by one of the many people there. Cliff was wrestled to the ground, brutally manhandled, arrested and taken to an unknown location by the federal police. All this happened just a few days before Thanksgiving - an American national holiday. I suppose the BLM and others had a feast of joy, in one of their final acts of ethnic cleansing of our land, of the Indian People.

In the April 10, 1992 round-up of cattle, I asked the BLM or others to furnish me with the documents of the Western Shoshone land transfer to the US. If there were no records of transfer of land - treaty land - then we, the Traditional Western Shoshone and the Western Shoshone National Council would continue our resistance.

I am now seeking national and international support. I am asking the Clinton Administration and Department of Justice to exonerate my brother of all the charges he was charged with of assaulting a Federal Officer. Cliff is no criminal, even the prosecutor said as much. Cliff is a humble man, dedicated to his Creator, the Western Shoshone people and his family. Mary and I have suffered mental anguish, duress and physical stress due to the aggressive acts of the US government, which is acting like a dictator in just taking our land, like a Mother against our wishes.

I have voiced again and again, Western Shoshone Land - Our Mother Earth - is not for sale!!!

Again, I want to thank you for this award and I acknowledge this recognition on behalf of my sister Mary, my family, the Western Shoshone People, and all indigenous relations - world-wide!

Thank you.

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