Indigenous rights activist and 1993 Laureate Carrie Dann passes away

News 05.01.2021

The Right Livelihood Foundation mourns the passing of 1993 Laureate Carrie Dann, a Native American activist in the US who fought to assert the rights of her people, the Western Shoshone Nation, to their land and their way of life. Dann and her sister, Mary (1923-2005), committed themselves to the political and legal battle to retain their ancestral lands, threatened, among others, by nuclear tests carried out by the US government. Local media reported Dann’s death on January 3, 2021.

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Carrie Dann, who stood courageously against the US government for decades to protect her and her people’s right to their land and way of life,” said Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of the Right Livelihood Foundation. “The Dann sisters were part of a global struggle to assert the rights of indigenous peoples – inspiring action and hope around the world.”

The Dann sisters received the Right Livelihood Award in 1993 “for exemplary courage and perseverance in asserting the rights of indigenous people to their land.”

Mary and Carrie Dann were traditional Western Shoshone women, who led their people’s political and legal battle to retain their ancestral lands. Starting in 1972, they protested the actions of 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 1863, 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.

However, the Treaty of Ruby Valley – like other treaties between the US government and Native Americans – has been undermined. Through different legislative acts, almost 90 per cent of Western Shoshone land and resources gradually came under the control of the US government over the years.

This also included using the land for nuclear testing. In 1951, the Nevada atomic test site was established, where the US and Britain conducted more than 100 atmospheric tests – more than anywhere else in the world. All in all, 950 nuclear bombs have been detonated on Shoshone land since 1951, most recently in April 1990.

In 1979, the US Court of Claims awarded 26 million dollars 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 1863 Treaty.

Mary and Carrie Dann owned a ranch in Crescent Valley in the heart of Western Shoshone territory. In 1973, they were approached by the US government 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 to impound their livestock.

After the death of her sister Mary, Dann continued to live on their ranch.

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