Greed Trumps Justice: Indigenous Tribe Stripped of Their Native Lands – Over Gold*
By Carolanne Wright
The Dann sisters, Carrie and Mary, are two Western Shoshone elders who live on ancestral and environmentally sensitive lands of Crescent Valley, Nevada. From time immemorial, the Shoshone peoples have lived in a balance of stewardship and reciprocity within this environment. As part of their core values, the Shoshone believe life is a prayer and offer small ceremonies for everything taken of mother earth. The sisters were told by their grandmother that there are nature spirits everywhere. And each time you eat a grain of rice, a grain of wheat, you are eating this thing we call life — don’t waste it.
Unfortunately, Shoshone reverence for the natural world lies in sharp contrast to the desires of the United States Government and its corporate masters.
In 1863, the U.S. government, along with the Shoshone nation, signed the “Treaty of Peace and Friendship” in Ruby Valley, Nevada. At the time, the Shoshone laid claim to 26 million acres of land in Nevada. The treaty between the government and the Western Shoshone nation allowed for settlers and ranchers to have access to the land, but did not include land title. Nonetheless, all of this changed a century later due to a coveted and ecologically devastating resource: gold.
Fraud, Harassment and the U.S. Federal Government
In 1962, the federal Indian Claims Commission determined that, due to “encroachment” of white settlers and ranchers, the land no longer belonged to the Shoshone. ‘Encroach what?” Carrie Dann questions. ”There isn’t anybody living out here. Look around.”
Following this ruling, the government seized the land and paid $26 million into an account for the Shoshone nation. However, the tribe refused the money, stating they never agreed to sell their land.
““The Supreme Court gave its blessing to the Indian Claims Commission ruling, claiming that the Shoshone had no claim to the land since the tribe had been paid $26 million.” (source)
As observed by one attorney following the case, the verdict was completely unconstitutional due to the fact that Indian tribes are forced into treaties without any rights or recourse. He also points out that because something is ‘legal’ does not mean that it is just.
Out of protest, the Dann sisters stopped paying grazing fees in 1973. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) countered by imposing nearly $50,000 in fees and a staggering $3 million in fines by 1998. The agency also ordered a roundup of the Dann’s cattle and horses, claiming the animals were trespassing and degrading federal land.
“Trespass? Who the hell gave them the land anyway?” Mary Dann told the New York Times. “When I trespass, it’s when I wander into Paiute territory.”
Coming in force with helicopters, trucks and armed agents, the BLM impounded hundreds of the Dann’s horses and cattle, which then went into auction. Events became so heated at one point that Clifford Dann doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire. He served 9 months in prison and was slapped with a $5,000 fine for interfering with a federal officer.
The BLM roundup of 400 horses in 2003 was particularly tragic as it took place in wintertime. Many of the mares were either pregnant or had just given birth. The agency ran horses through fences onto pasture that was inadequate for grazing. Horses and their babies died because the BLM felt the need to run the animals off traditional grazing lands in the middle of winter.
Each roundup cost the agency approximately $1-million to carry out. Information was later uncovered by the Dann’s attorney that the order to confiscate the animals came directly from Washington, D.C. — namely the Department of State, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior.
Why such an interest in the land by the federal government?
Greed, Gold and Business as Usual
As it turns out, the Shoshone land in Nevada just happens to sit atop the largest gold find in the United States. But the gold was microscopic and it wasn’t until 1961 that the industry developed a technique to extract the metal. To put this development into context, the Ruby Valley Treaty was revoked one year later in 1962. The land is now the 2nd largest gold producing region in the world.
When gold is microscopic, rock needs to be dug out, crushed, then leached in a cyanide bath to remove the precious metal. The production of one gold ring generates 20 tons of waste material. Not only that, but the gold is located under the water table. The miners are pumping between 20,000 — 70,000 gallons of water per minute out of the ground everyday, year-round. The water table across the entire region has been depleted, while drinking water has become unusable due to heightened salinity and mineral content.
“They are pumping this virgin water out so that we can enjoy wearing gold,” declares Carrie Dann.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are killing the earth. The earth is dying because of the way people act, you as consumers and mass producers of gold. We as indigenous people are yelling: stop that! You are killing the mother earth.”
One mine sits upon billions of dollars worth of gold, but at what cost? Is this gold more important than the environment? More important than those who get their food, medicine and sustenance from the land?
“We don’t need that gold. Eighty percent of that gold goes into jewellery. Eighty percent. Anytime you men buy gold for your wives, you think about that. The destruction that is happening in the name of gold,” said Carrie Dann.