Original story published in October 2003:
Mary and Carrie Dann, Western Shoshone elders, Eureka County, NV. (Photo by Western Shoshone Defense Project)
Approximately 26 million acres will transition to the U.S. Government if the Senate passes HR Bill 884. This Shoshone acreage is marked by the Bureau of Land Management for mining minerals, storing nuclear waste, and for geothermal energy production. Yucca Mountain, a historical and spiritual area for Shoshones, will expand its current nuclear storage facilities during the next 5-7 years.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
found the U.S. government violated the Dann sisters' rights, although
did not state that the Dann sisters owned land. The Commission
suggested an "effective remedy" should ensure respect for the Danns'
claim to their ranch of 70 years. The Organization of American States
(OAS) human-rights commission reaffirmed land-rights use of the Western
Shoshone Indian tribe, rejecting the U.S. government's claim the Danns
live on public land. It was the first time both councils charged the
U.S. government with violating human rights, and the case will be heard
by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
The Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed in 1863 between the U.S. government and Western Shoshone tribe included the use of 43,000 square miles of territory extending north from the deserts of Southern California, across much of Nevada, and into South central Idaho, and East into Utah. The treaty gave Shoshone permanent use of land in exchange for "peace," so that the [then] Union of the United States in the midst of Civil War, could guarantee the flow of gold out of California to points East. Shoshones agreed to end warfare with settlers and the U.S., and to allow transportation and telegraph wires through its territory.
The U.S. government acknowledged, 115 years later, that they had further encroached upon Shoshone land through privatization, mining, and nuclear testing, and paid the tribe $26 million through trust, or 15 cents per acre. Today the amount is valued at $140 million (79 cents per acre), although the Western Shoshone have not withdrawn a penny. Shoshone say the 1863 treaty did not sell their land to a government, but instead secured their rights to own and occupy.
About an hour southwest of Elko, NV, the Dann sisters live in a makeshift dwelling, shaded by trees, and powered by a gasoline generator. They have fought the government for 30 years, for land they say is theirs. Except, their ranch butts-up against a new wealth of gold deposit discovered at an ever expanding Cortez gold mine.
Cortez splits its operation into three units; the Cortez open pit, and two independent Carlin-type disseminated gold deposit pipelines. The operation is owned by Placer Dome Inc., (60 percent) and Rio Tinto (40 percent). The U.S. government permitted gold mining at Cortez in 1969 with expansion plans still underway 24 years later. In 2003, more than 3 million ounces of gold will be produced from Cortez on Shoshone land.
Children hold signs written in support of Mary and Carrie Dann, Eureka County, NV. (Photo by Western Shoshone Defense Project)
Until September 2002, when federal agents first seized 227 cattle from the Dann ranch, the Danns were raising cattle and horses on land purchased by their father Dewey Dann in the 1930s. In December 2002, the Danns were ordered to remove remaining livestock, 250 additional cattle and 1,000 horses, and they were charged with trespassing on public land. They were served with $3 million in fines for past due grazing fees.
The Dann sisters, both of whom are in their 70s, did not transfer grazing permits into their name from their late father, Dewey Dann. They say that their land is within the boundaries of the Western Shoshone and therefore live under territory rule. The government says the land is now public and it was purchased from Western Shoshone in 1979.
The Bureau of Land Management served the Danns warrants, and followed through with their warning to auction off remaining livestock in January 2003. The sisters sued the Bureau of Land Management to establish rightful ownership of land, and watched federal agents remove their cattle and horses on the morning of 18 January. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that since the Danns received no money for their land, it was still theirs, but the ruling was overturned in the Supreme Court, using a "bar clause" which states that Indian Claims legislation denotes; whenever money is paid for land, its use and rights to use are forever barred. Shoshone land had been gradually encroached upon, according to the Supreme Court, and it therefore no longer belonged to the Dann Ranch.
Carrie Dann says she wouldn't have sued the Bureau of Land Management had she known the court would favor the government.
Bureau of Land Management says Dann livestock
caused irreparable damage to the countryside due to over grazing. Dann
claims overgrazing damage is nothing like the damage caused at the
neighboring Cortez. Grass grows back, but mining causes irreparable
damage to the earth, according to Carrie Dann.
Aerial view of Yucca Mountain.
Danns' struggle was the catalyst for a handful of protesters to organize, mobilize, and fight alongside the grandmothers, but their case also acts as a media smoke screen to the broader government plans underway for Shoshone land.
On 24 September 2003 Bill HR 884 made its way to the Resources Committee, House of Representatives. This Bill disburses Western Shoshone land in Nevada for expansion of Cortez mines and for massive development at Yucca Mountain. Shoshone tribe elders met in Washington DC one month earlier to at least place "hold" on the Bill, but their request was ignored.
In the late 1970s the U.S. government started using Yucca Mountain as a repository for nuclear waste, but it since has maxed-out capacity with 77,000 metric tons of nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. All except 2 percent of U.S. nuclear waste is earmarked for Yucca Mountain with HR Bill 884, beginning in 2010.
Commercial nuclear power plants produce 2,000 tons of waste per year, at which rate will surpass expansion plans of Yucca Mountain by 2035. Nuclear waste remains lethal for 10,000 years, and is dangerous to humans for 250,000 years.
Nevada is sparsely populated. Outside of Las Vegas or Reno, most U.S. citizens do not think about those living throughout Nevada. HR Bill 884's successful pass depends upon little public knowledge, and upon the silence of rogue ranchers.
At least three other Shoshone ranchers face trespassing charges by the Bureau of Land Management. Raymond Yowell, who is Chief of the Western Shoshone National Council, watched federal agents cart-off 157 of his cattle to auction in 2003. Bureau of Land Management says it will continue to prosecute as needed.
Traditionally, Native American tribes kept to themselves, acknowledging their differences and disagreements between each other, bloodshed was the price at another time in history. As the early colonial settlers moved West, Native American tribes experienced a different threat, and lost battles to modern guns. One man, Shawnee Chief Techumseh envisioned a "united tribe" able to align little nations into one powerful voice.
Environmental groups today lack such a voice or the power Techumseh envisioned for his brothers and sisters. The Danns fight for their property with little support. However, united in cause, environmental groups and human right's groups together would indeed change the course of the Danns' story, and perhaps prevent Bills like 884.
The Western Shoshone Distribution Bill and plans for Yucca Mountain would not be mandated through a governmental body without the approval of citizens.
Corporate giants set a good example of strength in numbers, their partnerships and wealth influence law makers with benefits and cash. Corporate moguls buy-up independent companies to add to their own financial returns. The once small company becomes apart of an untouchable conglomerate, made up of many small units. Corporate is an unbreakable force, with financial resources, powerful voice, and lobbying power in Washington DC.
Many groups simply cannot find enough time in a given day to defend every issue. But with resources joined there is time and money. An environmental summit could be the body enforcing policy to prevent government invasion, say, witnessed by Shoshone.
The Dann sisters have fought their government without the help from Human Rights Watch, or the American Civil Liberties Union. This family is committed to preserving its ancestral land. United they stand, divided we are, perhaps tomorrow we can rise to their call.