|Carrie Dann and Louise Benally Photo Brenda Norrell|
Carrie Dann takes flight to Spirit World
Carrie Dann passed to the Spirit World on Jan. 2, 2021. We offer our tribute in a series, "Carrie Dann in Her Own Words," beginning with these powerful words from the Western Shoshone whose words and resistance inspired a generation. We are saddened at the loss of our long time friend and send our condolences to her loved ones. Carrie truly really lived and loved. -- Brenda Norrell
Western Shoshone and Navajo, Solidarity in Resistance
By Brenda Norrell
ELKO, Nevada – Western Shoshone and Navajo share a legacy that the corporate world and United States government want censored. It is the government-sponsored terrorism of Indian people for exploitation of their land, minerals and water.
Carrie Dann, among the Western Shosohone fighting gold mining, nuclear testing and the seizure of livestock and land, said the United States does not view Indigenous Peoples as human beings.
“We are not even accepted as human beings by the United States government. There is no respect for humans, the earth, water and air”, Dann said at the Shoshone Nation Information Meeting, held Nov. 18 – 19 at the Elko Band gymnasium.
A new documentary, “Our Life, Our Land,” dedicated to the memory of Mary Dann was shown, revealing rare film footage of sisters Mary and Carrie Dann ruggedly repairing a fence and working on their ranch. The film documents the Bureau of Land Management’s brutal seizure of their livestock and Clifford Dann, their brother, dousing himself with gasoline before being assaulted by federal agents and arrested.
Exposing the BLM’s cruel roundup of the Dann’s horses and wild horses near Crescent Valley, the film exposes the hidden agenda for this seizure of horses: the gold mines that are now rapidly spreading through Western Shoshone sacred lands. The film reveals the extreme destruction of gold mining and how mountains are being cored and hollowed out for small amounts of gold, leaving behind tons of waste. Filmmakers Beth and George Gage, of Gage and Gage Productions, are preparing the film for release.
During her talk, Dann said it is the duty of everyone to respect the earth, water and land, so future generations can carry on. She said when making a decision, everyone should ask if it is good for the generations to come.
“We have to think about the seventh generation that is not here yet.”
Dann said the United States government views Indian people as no more than “a crumb that it kicks around and punches.”
“We have no rights; we are not even respected by the court system as human beings.”
Dann said the Papal Bulls and Doctrine of Discovery began this assault and attempt to colonize Indian people.
“They looked on the Indigenous People as heathens, no better than a coyote out there wandering around. They keep pushing until there is no place left for us to go.”
Dann urged Indian communities to replace the word “colony,” with “communities” or “Indian camps.”
“We are all going through growing pains. The United States of America has done everything in its power to separate us from our Mother Earth.”
“That land out there is Western Shoshone land. The only responsibility we have is to care for that land – that land is life itself.”
Dann said it is important for Indian people to know their own history and where they came from. She said in the Shoshone Creation story, the people started from the south and came north and then return to the south.
Dann remembered the cruel history of how Shoshone were treated by the United States soldiers who drove them from their land. Her grandmother told her how the pregnant women were cut open and left to die.
“Is that the action of a human being or a beast?”
During those times, 98 percent of the Shoshone people were killed, many of the Shoshone died of small pox. She said the schools never tell this history.
“A gift of yellow scarves was passed out to the Western Shoshone people, they were contaminated with the small pox.
“We were told that our people died like flies. Where the gold mine is today, the people died like flies”, she said of Crescent Valley.
Dann said the Shoshone people with small pox fell into rock crevices and pushed themselves down into the rocks so as not to contaminate their families.
“Today the US government is offering us bread crumbs for our land – for our life – because that is what land is; it is life.”
Rebuking the US government for claiming that the Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863 is no longer in effect because of non-Indian encroachment, she denied that Western Shoshone lands had been lost. She said Indigenous Peoples are the only ones losing their lands to so-called “gradual encroachment”.
“We’ve got to stand up and say to the United States government, ‘Hell No!’ We can not give this to you, it is our sacred Mother Earth, and we can not give it to you.”
Speaking of the land, air, water and sun, Dann said the earth is the mother of life. Yet, excavation, the use of water for mining and the mining itself is hurting the earth. Now winds also bring the contamination from the Nevada Test Site and there is mercury contamination in the food chain.
“We can not go on contaminating the air, because it will affect our future generations,” Dann said.
Now, she said, the city of Las Vegas wants northern Nevada’s water for swimming pools and recreation. “If you live in the desert, accept what the desert gives you.” She said people who live in the desert should study their neighbors, the desert turtles, and learn how to survive in the desert.
Speaking at the Western Shoshone gathering, Louise Benally, Navajo resisting relocation in Big Mountain, Ariz., described how Peabody Coal entered into agreements with the Navajo and Hopi tribal governments for coal mining and used the pristine aquifer water for coal slurry. She described the 30-year struggle of the people living on the land and the resistance to forced relocation.
Benally said the Four Sacred Mountains, in what is now called Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, surround and protect Navajoland. On these sacred mountains, Navajo medicine plants grow.
When Benally was a teenager, United States senators came to Black Mesa for the purpose of listening to Navajo elderly living on the land. But what the Navajo elders said in the Dine’ language was not accurately translated for the Congressmen. Benally made the commitment then to learn English so she could speak the truth and it would be heard.
When Benally was 19 years old, she was sent to the United Nations to carry the plea of Navajos on Black Mesa. During that time, she also learned of the Lakota struggle at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, the struggle for resistance and the spiritual path of the Lakotas.
In 1978, Navajos, including elders, joined the Longest Walk from San Francisco to Washington DC, because of the anti-Indian legislation that they could foresee was coming. During the walk, Navajo elders entered into agreements with Lakotas for solidarity in the struggle.
Still, back at home on Black Mesa, the struggle continued and the corporate and government sponsored war against Navajos living on the land continued for decades. Benally’s parents did not speak English and like the others, they were constantly harassed by rangers and agents. Bombarded by notices to impound their livestock, Indian police seized their animals.
“I’ve been to jail lots of time for standing up for my people. They might lock me up, but I haven’t done anything wrong.”
Benally said she knew that ultimately the government and corporate schemes would not stop this Indian movement. She said to herself, “I’ll be back, if not physically, spiritually, that was my commitment.”
Pointing out the struggle still faced by the people, Benally said government and court rulings are never in favor of Indian people, because those decisions are based on greed, the greed for minerals.
“In my area, they want the coal, they want the land, and they want the water.”
Benally said the Navajo Nation council members, 88 representing 110 chapters in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, are no different from the Congressmen in Washington DC.
“When they get elected to office they change.” She said those who rubber-stamp the legislation then receive the money for their own chapters.
Earlier, Benally made a commitment to support the resistance at the Nevada Test Site and speak out to halt nuclear testing on Western Shoshone lands.
“I felt the call for support for help. We need to continue to stand together and say ‘No!’
“We have the ultimate power because we can communicate with the earth, the sun, the stars, the wind, the rain. My people still have those connections.”
Benally said if the coal and gold companies on Navajo and Western Shoshone lands continue to poison the water and drain the water from the aquifers, catastrophes will result because the earth’s balance is being altered.
“If these mining companies contaminate all the water, if they draw all the water out of the earth, what is going to happen?”
Benally said her grandfather told her to keep educating the people and to keep learning, because of the need to keep the earth and moon in balance. Now, with coal mining depleting Navajos’ aquifer and gold mining coring out Western Shoshone mountains, the corporations are adding to global warming. Vegetation is dying and nature is in imbalance, she said.
“We are at a time now when things are so critical. We don’t know if we have ten more years.”
Still, the struggle continues. “The Indian movement was always about the struggle just to hang on to our way of life.”
Benally encouraged Western Shoshone not to be sidetracked by the promise of money in exchange for their land. She said when they arrive in the next world, the money will not be attached to them. Instead, she said to remember the children and grandchildren.
Pointing out that the corporations are destroying the earth, she said, “They are making the sun their enemy.”
Some people never have enough. “I call them ‘the needies.’”
But money, she said, comes and goes quickly. “The money will be gone in no time and the earth will still be here.”
After driving through the Western Shoshone territory here, in north central Nevada, Benally encouraged Western Shoshone to have their water and air tested because of the rapid spread of gold mines. She also encouraged Western Shoshone to prepare for the future, know how to grow their own food and gather wild foods.
With this, she said. “If we know how to build a fire, we will survive.”
During the gathering, Western Shoshone Larson Bill urged unity among the Western Shoshone as they uphold their treaty rights under the Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863.
“Everyone is watching the Western Shoshone to see what our people are going to do.”
Western Shoshone Bernice Lalo described how it felt to face off with federal agents on Western Shoshone land and then join a delegation to the United Nations in Geneva seeking United Nations intervention in 2006.
“That’s what we did when we went to Geneva, we were in another fight, a fight for our lives.” Lalo described the appeal to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. CERD ruled that the United States is violating the rights of the Western Shoshone and demanded that the US “cease and desist.”
While the mining companies give gifts to win over Western Shoshone, Lalo said, “You need to look the gift horse in the mouth.”
Western Shoshone urged one another not to allow themselves to be brainwashed into the falsehood of owning material items. Instead, they were encouraged to stand up for their Treaty. Others pointed out the genocidal policy of the United States government of paying bounties for Indian skulls and how thousands of those skulls remain in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.
The gathering began with a song for the earth by Katherine Blossom, Western Shoshone. She encouraged those gathered to say a prayer when they see a hawk or other creation.
“Whatever you see and touches your heart that is what you need to pray for. Thank that tree that is going to heat and warm your house.”
Western Shoshone children and youths were honored with a Sundance song by Chet Stevens, Western Shoshone, at the conclusion of the weekend gathering. Afreda Jake, environmental director for the Elko Band, shared her ongoing projects with children which honor earth, land, sun and air.
Western Shoshone youths presented a list of what they learned at the gathering. They included the earth, land, sun and air and remembered the encouragement to learn the language and stories.
Western Shoshone youths’ said on their list, “We need to listen to our elders because they teach us everything we know and do. No more bomb testing on our land. You shouldn’t let people take away your land.”
Some terms the youths heard were: “Government’s Big Toys, racism, stolen property, careless mining, horses, Newe people, and creatures.”
Western Shoshone youths concluded, “You shouldn’t let other people take away your land. You shouldn’t let other people push you around.”
Copyright Brenda Norrell