MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Western Shoshone Nation

"What we see today is the destruction of what we call life. When you destroy the land, you’re destroying life. When you destroy the water, you are destroying life. When you contaminate the air, you’re destroying life. And when the sun starts hurting, as I hear it’s doing now, that is the destruction of life."
Carrie Dann

Nuclear Waste Disposal, Nuclear Waste Testing panelists Margene Bullcreek (Goshute) and Carrie Dann (Western Shoshone)

Carrie Dann, Western Shoshone Nation
We have a lot of things in common, what happens to the indigenous people, the traditional life of the indigenous people. I find our spiritual beliefs, the sacredness of the four things, which is the land, the water, the air, and the sun, which we all believe in as givers of life. And when you look at our nations, our people, across the Western Hemisphere. This is all so very true.

What we see today is the destruction of what we call life. When you destroy the land, you’re destroying life. When you destroy the water, you are destroying life. When you contaminate the air, you’re destroying life. And when the sun starts hurting, as I hear it’s doing now, that is the destruction of life. But who caused all these problems? It’s the most intelligent animal that’s on this earth: Man, the two legged one.

I think back to some of our creation stories, before the humans appeared on the earth. The plant life, the animal life, all life made dedications so we can survive. Little did they know how destructive we are. Today we take from our Earth Mother the plant life so we can survive. We take the animal life, the bird life, so that we can survive. The beginning of the creation, these things dedicated their lives to us, and in turn we’re supposed to take care of them. We’re supposed to be the guardians of all life. We’re the spokespeople. We are supposed to speak on their behalf, on behalf of their health, because when they become unhealthy, we also become unhealthy. That is the way about the Earth Mother. Today, with all of these things that they are doing to her – pumping oil, pumping gas, putting little needles in her body everyday, pumping the precious juice out which we call water, the essence of life. We see that happening here in the Southwest. We see it happening in my area.

I talk about the history of the Europeans. Where did they come from? Julie (Fishel) tells me the history of the Europeans, the Crusades in that the indigenous population was destroyed by people who didn’t believe in them, because of a Papal Bull put out by the Vatican, and the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery is also used in U.S. court system. It is used by the Supreme Court in what they call the Marshall Trilogy – they call indigenous people pagans, heathen, infidels. It is also written that indigenous people are child-like.

Is that why we need a trustee? I feel that we are all mentally capable of not needing a trustee. Yet America appointed its Department of Interior as trustee. What I see from my own experience with the United States of America, the only purpose of the Department of Interiors as trustee is to destroy your rights, to control you and keep you under their thumbs at all times. I think that every Indian nation and every group of indigenous people here in America should be able to control their own destiny. After all, it is their lives, and the lives of our future generations. Under the terms of trusteeship, the United States can keep us pretty much under control. Under the Indian Claims Commission Act, the Western Shoshone people were given a token as payment for our rights – $26 million, which sits in the United States Treasury today. It was accepted by the United States, not by the Shoshone peoples.

I bet each and every one the Indians in here were involved with Indian Claims Commission one way or another. It was a Commission that was set up by the United States of America to steal our lands, outright theft of our lands. They valued our land in dollars and cents. Indigenous people don’t values their land in dollars and cents. We value our land in life.

Julie Fishel, Attorney, Western Shoshone Nation
In the Western Shoshone, their land base consists of 60 million acres. It goes through central Nevada and the Nevada (nuclear) Test Site. You have all this land, and the federal government claims about 90% as federal or public land. The question that people like Carrie Dann have always had and consistently asked was, how did the federal government get title to this land, because the Shoshone people never sold it? Their treaty was of peace and friendship. You’ll even find it in the United States (U.S.) Legislative record where the U.S.sent their Indian agent out to make this treaty, because they wanted to get to the gold fields in California. That is the only legal document between the Western Shoshone and United States. It’s been litigated. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Shoshone people and said that the United States has not shown extinguishment to title. If the United States believed they had federal title to this land, they had to go back to the lower court and prove that in a full hearing on the record.

Instead, the United States set up the Indian Claims Commission. It started proceedings in the early 1960s with regard to the Shoshone. In 1979 they stipulated to a payment amount of 15 cents an acre. This land is currently the second to third largest gold producing area in the world, extremely valuable. In 1979 they issued this payment and said that the Shoshone title issue had been extinguished by “gradual encroachment,” which is an interesting theory if you look at the land base. The federal claims to the land are the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. The Shoshone always agreed to allow small towns and ranching, so private areas are not in dispute. It is the other activities that, as Carrie has said, destroyed the air, land and water. They are in direct violation of Western Shoshone traditional laws and teachings, and that is where we have a problem.

Once the Indian Claims Commission issued that payment in 1979, the U.S. appealed the Ninth Circuit ruling that had gone against them. But they didn’t appeal on title issues, they appealed on whether once the Department of Interior, as the trustee for the Western Shoshone, accepted that money, then the Shoshone had been paid, blocking them from further litigation in the U.S. courts. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1985 said yes, the Department of Interior is your trustee. Therefore if they took this money on your behalf, and even though you’re protesting it, it does not matter. Under U.S. federal Indian law, Interior is your trustee. They took the money, so therefore you’ve been paid. To date that money sits in the Department of Treasury. This is all based on the Doctrine of Discovery – that Indian people are less than human, childlike in nature, are pagan, are savages, and are heathen. All these words may sound unbelievable, but you pull Supreme Court cases – Johnson v. Macintosh (1823) – and it is still the law in the United States. In fact, last year the Supreme Court of the state of New York upheld this Doctrine in a land claims case with Iroquois.

We’ve taken these issues to both the Organization of American States and the United Nations. In March 2006, we won at the United Nations. The Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued a full decision under their Urgent Action Procedure, telling the U.S. to start work reforming their laws and policies that have subjugated Indian people. This is an issue that everyone can form a unified position on. Something that our organizations can talk about, and how we can build on these decisions and start protecting these areas.

The Western Shoshone Defense Project was established in 1991 by the Western Shoshone National Council to provide support to Mary and Carrie Dann, Western Shoshone grandmothers faced with the confiscation of their livestock which they graze on Western Shoshone homelands. While we started as volunteers, in the last decade with the support of many individuals and foundations, we have grown into an organization with paid staff that asserts Shoshone rights against violations to Newe Sobobia. www.wsdp.org

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"We’re here to talk about what we can do to save the world from nuclear proliferation. Our world, we’ve come to find out, is very small. It’s not as big as we once thought. It is an almost impossible task to save the world from nuclear proliferation, but in my way of life, the Diné way of life, we believe that there are no impossibilities. Although it seems like there are only a handful of us here trying to make a stand against nuclear proliferation, the task is not impossible. It all starts when we come together from all corners of the world, like we are doing here this week. We can start by coming to the realization that we are all on the same side. We are all members of the five-fingered intelligent earth dwellers called homosapiens, human beings. It doesn’t matter the color, the creed. We’re all earth dwellers here, in this world."
—The Honorable Joe Shirley, Jr.
President of the Navajo Nation
Address to the Indigenous World Uranium Summit, November 30, 2006

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