Published on January 25, 2013 by Amy
The Dann Sisters, Mary Dann (1923-2005) and Carrie Dann (c. 1932- ), are Western Shoshone elders who are spiritual leaders, ranchers, and cultural, spiritual rights and land rights activists. Mary Dann died in 2005.
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In 1993 the Dann sisters received the Right Livelihood Award.
In 1863 the US made the peace Treaty of Ruby Valley with the Western Shoshone, which was to allow US citizens safe passage through their territory and permit mining for gold on their land. It defined their territory as what is now a large portion of Nevada and four other states, as well as the underlying mineral rights, and said the Shoshone would never have to give up their land. Over the ensuing decades, the US acquired much of the Western Shoshone land, largely by Congressional legislation. Most of the land is now publicly held by federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Department of Interior and the Department of Energy (DOE). It used some of the land for nuclear testing, and has conducted more than 100 atmospheric tests, “more than anywhere else in the world.” DOE has detonated nearly 1000 bombs.
The Western Shoshone filed suit decades ago to try to reclaim their land. In 1962 the now defunct Indian Claims Court ruled the Shoshone had lost control of their land due to settler encroachment and were not entitled to any claim from the US government. As the case proceeded, in 1979 the Indian Claims Commission awarded a $26 million land claim settlement to the Western Shoshone. The US Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that the Shoshone land claims were extinguished by the financial settlement. The Shoshone refused to take the money, which is earning interest. Eighty percent of the Shoshone who voted on the issue were against accepting the financial settlement; instead, they asked the US to respect the terms of the 1863 treaty. Some Shoshone have wanted the tribe to take the money and distribute and invest it for the welfare of the tribe.
Since 1973, the Dann sisters conducted civil protest by ranching and refusing to pay grazing fees to BLM to run their cattle on what was former Shoshone land. They contended the US had taken the land illegally and not abided by the terms of its treaty. In 1982 some tribal members organized the Western Shoshone National Council as a governmental group; they elected Raymond Yowell as chief. It is an alternative to what they call the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) governments of the Duckwater and Yomba reservations, which are federally recognized tribes. Yowell has worked to ensure the tribes do not accept the settlement money (up to $100 million in 1998) because that would extinguish their claims to their former territory.
In 1998 BLM issued trespass notices to the Danns and Raymond Yowell, chief of the Western Shoshone Nation, ordering their removal of hundreds of cows and horses from public lands in Eureka County, Nevada. Carrie and Mary Dann filed a request for urgent action with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. They had been active in the movement to recover millions of acres of land in Nevada and bordering states that originally belonged to the Western Shoshone tribe.
The Dann sisters persuaded the UN of their case. It ordered the US government to halt all actions against the Western Shoshone people, a mandate which was mostly ignored.
Mary Dann (January 2, 1923 – April 22, 2005) was a Native American activist. She died from an accident on her ranch in central Nevada on April 22, 2005.
Carrie Dann (c. 1932- ) is a Western Shoshone spiritual elder and activist for land and tribal rights.
On April 1, 2007, Carrie Dann was arrested with 38 other activists for trespassing at the Nevada Test Site at a Nevada Desert Experience event protesting governmental programs at the site. She has continued with activities to try to end nuclear testing and programs at the site.
In November 2008 Dann, with members of the Western Shoshone Defense Project and four other tribal and public interest groups, sued in federal court against the US and Canadian Barrick Gold, seeking an injunction to stop the “largest open pit cyanide heap leach gold mines in the United States – the Cortez Hills Expansion Project on Mt. Tenabo,” which the Western Shoshone consider sacred land. In addition to spiritual concerns, tribal and other groups are concerned about the proposed project’s environmental impact on water, air and ground quality.