The story of Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy is all over the news these days. He and Federal officials are at odds over Cliven Bundy’s cows grazing on public, protected land.
The strange thing about the Cliven Bundy story is that it overshadows a similar story that’s been happening for over 40 years now in Nevada that also has to do with the U.S. government suing sisters Mary Dann (2 January 1923 – 22 April 2005) and Carrie Dann (1932 – ) to stop horses and cattle from grazing on land that rightfully belongs to the Western Shoshone as agreed to in the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. However, the U.S. government sued the sisters in the early 1970s on the basis that the horses and cattle were grazing on land that the U.S. was now claiming as its own.
Since 1998, Mary and Carrie Dann had their herds rounded up on Western Shoshone land no fewer than fives times. With the support of their fellow Western Shoshone, the sisters chose legal avenues to resolve the problem to no avail. The Department of Energy used the land for nuclear testing and leased other plots to gold mining companies.
While it’s true that the U.S. Congress tried to settle the land issue with the Western Shoshone back in 1979 by offering to purchase title to 24 million acres of tribal lands for $26 million US, the Western Shoshone refused this deal and refused the money. Not to be deterred, the U.S. federal government then passed the Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Act of 2004 and took the land, claiming that the $145 million US made the land theirs even if the Western Shoshone refused the deal and refused the money. If they refused the deal and refused the money, the money would be held in trust for the Western Shoshone anyway, and they had no say in the matter.
There’s an expression to describe what this appears to be: There’s a fox in the hen-house.
When the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found “credible information alleging that the Western Shoshone indigenous people are being denied their traditional rights to land” on 10 March 2006, it went largely unnoticed by the U.S. government who stood by the Act their government had passed two years earlier.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ruled that the U.S. Federal government had “violated the rights of Western Shoshone elders Mary and Carrie Dann in its seizure of their property and improper handling of their rights to tribal land in the state of Nevada.”
In fact, where the U.S. government was concerned, the Commission found that it was in violation of three articles of the “American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man” that was adopted by the Ninth International Conference of American States in 1948 in Bogotá, Colombia.
It’s interesting to note that back in 2003, one of the newspaper articles wrote this:
Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, introduced legislation last year that would distribute $20,000 to each member of the tribe, thus ending the matter as far as the government is concerned. The measure passed the Senate but died in the House. Senator Reid’s staff says he will introduce it again this year.
So while this same Harry Reid as the Harry Reid from 2003 makes statements to the media that the United States of America is “a nation of laws, not of men and women” and brands Cliven Bundy’s supporters as “domestic terrorists” he might want to step back and see what’s been done, and continues to be done, to the Western Shoshone peoples.
Let’s start with respecting the agreements and treaties made with the Western Shoshone before addressing other grazing issues in Nevada.