Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

February 17, 2018

The Desert Tortoise on Sacred Land: Celebrating Victory at Ward Valley, 20 Years Later

BLM officials (far left) sent to evict activists. Wally Antone (Quechan), right; AIM member (far right), Feburary 13, 1998. | Photo: Greenaction

Quechan Lightning Singers and dancers at front line of occupiers blocking police from entering Ward Valley, February 13, 1998. | Photo: Greenaction.

Activists holding the line at Ward Valley occupation, 1998. | Photo: Molly P. Johnson.

The Desert Tortoise on Sacred Land: Celebrating Victory at Ward Valley, 20 Years Later

Article by Brenda Norrell

Seated in the shade of a Mojave Nation School bus, Dennis Scott spoke of the Turtle Land and the tortoises that silently passed in the noonday sun.
"I'm Mojave. This is our sacred land. It has been for thousands of years. That is the name of our village, Silaye Aheace," he said, pointing to the name on the sign at the camp's entrance.

Silaye Aheace is the Mojave name for mesquite. The resident tribal elder represented the tribes of the Colorado River here and was among those occupying the desert in protest of the proposed nuclear waste dump.

For those who said it is merely wasteland, Scott quietly and reverently responded, "Oh, but there is so much out here."

Beneath the hot sand is a pristine aquifer, the size of Lake Tahoe, and the surface is the home of the endangered desert tortoise.

"Some are no bigger than a Coke can. I saw five of them, without radio transmitters," he said, referring to the transmitters used in an environmental study.

With the only sounds coming from distant aircraft above the bare desert mountains, Scott was surrounded by creosote, yucca, cholla, mesquite and ironwood.

"I like the quiet. I like solitude. Most of the time I like being by myself."

The land is ancestral Mojave land and the tortoises have been here for millions of years. In this Turtle Land, spirit trails or running paths of Colorado River tribal runners remain.

In the choking heat that sears to around 120 degrees in summer, Scott maintained the site without running water or other comforts. The solitude of the site was sometimes shattered by four-wheel riders intent on destroying desert land or turtle hunters seeking cooking ingredients in violation of federal law.

But the greatest threat was the proposed nuclear waste dump, which Scott said threatened to ruin the waters of the Colorado River and pristine ground aquifer. Scott said the transport of nuclear waste endangered the safety of all life forms along the highways of transport.

Written in 1998, this interview was during the Occupation of Ward Valley, which halted the proposed nuclear waste dump.

This series at Censored News:

The Rhythmic Journey Home: Birdsingers ensured victory at Ward Valley
Mojave Steve Lopez: Ward Valley halted Nuclear Genocide, Poisoning of Colorado River
The Desert Tortoise on Sacred Land, Celebrating the 20 Year Victory at Ward Valley
Celebrating Victory at Ward Valley: Corbin Harney 'Sing to the Water'
Laguna Pueblo Dorothy Purley Exposed Nuclear Holocaust on Native Lands. Featured in widely-censored Trespassing film to be shown at Ward Valley Celebration, Feb. 23-24, 2018.

Article copyright Brenda Norrell

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