Here’s What Happened When These Unarmed Native American Sisters Defended Their Land from the Feds|
Like the Bundys, the Dann sisters tried a standoff with the BLM. But it ended very differently.
The double standard in the media’s treatment of Ammon Bundy and his gang at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is shameful, but the case of the Dann sisters underlines even further the disparity in how non-white activists are treated.
Carrie and Mary Dann, two elderly Shoshone women who have defied seizure of their land, have been repeatedly roughed up and harassed by federal officials and mobs of white ranchers for refusing to cede their claim to land that was illegally stolen from them 30 years ago.
In 1863, the U.S. government signed the Ruby Valley Treaty with the Western Shoshone nation, who laid claim to 26 million acres of land in Nevada, Idaho, and Utah. The Shoshone tribe and the U.S. government agreed that settlers and cowboys had access to the land, but not title. But in the 1970s, the federal Indian Claims Commission ruled that the land no longer belonged to the Shoshone nation due to “gradual encroachment” of white settlers and ranchers. The government seized the land and put $26 million into an account meant for the Shoshone nation in 1979, but the tribe turned down the money, saying 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. Dann sisters stopped paying grazing fees out of protest in 1973, saying they only honored the Ruby Valley Treaty, and the BLM responded by slapping the sisters with a series of fines totalling $3 million in 1998. Federal officials called for the roundup of the Danns’ horses and cattle, saying they were trespassing on federal land.
”Trespass? Who the hell gave them the land anyway?” Mary Dann said in an interview with the New York Times. ”When I trespass, it’s when I wander into Paiute territory.”
In September of 2001, the government sent in the cavalry to show it was serious about its claim to the Shoshone tract:
The government considers it public land, and to drive the point home, 40 agents from the Bureau of Land Management descended on the Danns’ ranch in September, heavily armed and fortified with helicopters, and confiscated 232 cattle, which were later sold.
The sisters and their supporters argue that their tribe never legally ceded these range lands. Though the federal government controls 85 percent of Nevada, they contend that it has no legitimate title to the land — or the gold, water, oil and geothermal energy beneath it.
Because the Dann sisters refused to leave their land, the government once again began seizing large numbers of their livestock in 2003, claiming the horses and cattle were grazing at the public’s expense. BLM officials even deputized local cowboys to assist with the livestock seizure. At which point, the sisters were forced to remove over 400 remaining horses from the disputed range, many of them pregnant mares, but they lost track of many in the forced move.
Furthermore, they were caught in a catch-22 regarding these stray horses that ran away in the chaos, wherein even strays marked with the Danns’ brand would be seized and auctioned if not claimed, but the sisters would incur trespassing fines if they did claim these horses.
While Mary Dann died on the ranch in 2005, her sister Carrie continues to protest for indigenous rights in her old age. Oxfam made a short documentary about the two sisters’ struggle to keep their land. Watch it below: