Carrie Dann, Defender of Her Ancestral Land, Dies

Carrie Dann, Defender of Her Ancestral Land, Dies

2021-01-13 17:05:00
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Carrie Dann, who fought for decades against the US government to reclaim the ancestral lands of the Western Shoshone Nation, died on January 1 at her home in Crescent Valley, Nev.

Julie Cavanaugh-Bill, a longtime friend and co-activist, confirmed the death and estimated that Ms. Dann was between 86 and 88. Mrs. Dann did not have a birth certificate, she said.

The roots of Ms. Dann's dispute with the government can be traced in part to 1962, when the Indian Claims Commission ruled that members of the Western Shoshone Nation, such as Ms. Dann and her sister, Mary Dann, had lost their claim to their land. by "gradual encroachment" by colonists.

The Dann sisters were at the forefront of a battle for a piece of land that stretched across four Western states. They said their rights to the territory were enshrined in the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley, in which the United States formally recognized Western Shoshone's claim that they now cover about 60 million acres in parts of Nevada, Idaho, Utah, and California.

The Western Shoshone Nation sued the government for non-compliance with the treaty, but courts ruled they were not entitled to compensation. The tribe appealed, and the Indian Claims Commission awarded it $ 26 million in 1979. But the tribe refused to accept the money in exchange for the land. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that the tribe had lost title to the land when the $ 26 million had previously been deposited as payment, even though the tribe had not collected the money.

All the while, the Dann sisters – who spent most of their lives on what had been their father's 800-acre ranch – continued to live life reminiscent of their ancestors. As late as 2002, when Carrie Dann was approaching 70 and Mary approaching 80, they were still breaking in horses and repairing fences. They avoided electricity, hot water and even ovens, The New York Times reported.

The sisters and other Shoshone farmers refused to pay pasturage on traditional West Shoshone land – nearly 26 million acres in Nevada, about two-thirds of the state. The government considers it public land.

In 2002, 40 agents from the Bureau of Land Management came down on Danns' farm, supported by helicopters. They confiscated and sold 232 cattle. It was one of a series of punitive measures taken by the US government that spanned decades.

Some members of the Western Shoshone Nation eventually accepted cash from the government in an effort to end the dispute, but the Danns persisted. Representatives of the Western Shoshone Nation have appealed to international bodies, including the United Nations, and they brought their case to U.S. government officials as late as the fall of 2019.

Mrs. Dann helped lead other efforts to protect her ancestral land. When a gold mining project expanded on Mount Tenabo, in the Cortez Mountains, Ms. Dann claimed that the area was home to several Western Shoshone creation stories and that the water that flowed underneath was sacred.

Credit…Laura Rauch / Associated Press

"In this area, the seasons of the year were mentioned – before people were here," she said in 2011.

Carrie Dann was born in Crescent Valley in the early 1930s to Dewey Dann and Sophie (Dick) Dann. Her parents ran the family farm. She graduated from Eureka County High School in the early 1950s and spent a year at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.

Her marriage in 1968 to Harvey Knight ended in divorce in 1972. Mrs. Dann leaves behind her daughter Patricia Paul and three grandchildren. Her son, Mark, died in 2015. Mary Dann died in 2005.

The Nevada Museum of Art's permanent collection includes artwork that touches on the activism of the Dann sisters, and the museum's deputy director, Ann M. Wolfe, said she worked with contemporary artists to ensure their story would not be forgotten.

"Carrie Dann and Mary Dann fought tirelessly to defend indigenous land rights as outlined in the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty between the US and Western Shoshone leaders," Ms. Wolfe said in an email to The Associated Press Tuesday. "The story of the Danns is essential for understanding the clash between indigenous peoples and colonial settlers that has sparked conflict time and again since America's founding."

The New York Times contributed to reporting.


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