Western Shoshone Struggle Against American Colonialism
By Aaron Mercredi
“I was indigenous and in one single evening they made me indigent. If you think the Indian wars are over, then think again.”
- Carrie Dann on October 31st 002
On April 27th 2005, over 60 people packed in to the KAYA office in the basement of the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre to learn about and discuss the struggle of the Western Shoshone Nation for self-determination. The event, “Resisting Colonialism in North America: The Western Shoshone Struggle for Sovereignty,” was organized by Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO), to host guests from the Western Shoshone Defense Project (WSDP) and the Western Shoshone Nation.
The evening began with a screening of “Broken Treaty II: To Protect Mother Earth,” a documentary outlining the struggle of the Western Shoshone people to gain recognition of rights to Newe Sogobia, which is approximately sixty million acres of land, secured under the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. The fi lm was followed by a moment of silence to honour the life of Mary Dann, one of the Dann sisters who led the f ght of the Western Shoshone people against the colonial attacks by the US government and passed away only days before the event.
Chris Sewall, coordinator of the WSDP’s Mining and Environment program, began by giving an update on what has happened since documentary was released, outlining the gains and losses they have experienced. Te-Moak Tribal Chairman Hugh Stevens spoke next and provided a synopsis of the long colonial war that the US has been waging against Western Shoshone people since first contact. Darla Lazona, Elko Band Te-Moak Council member, spoke next and spoke passionately about their rights as indigenous people and how they will never give up their struggle for dignity against the US government. Finally, Julie Fishel, coordinator of WSDP’s Land Recognition Program, spoke and gave more of a legal perspective to the case. Discussion went well in to the evening, as many participants wanted to learn more about the case and what people can do to support the Western Shoshone.
Members of the International Indigenous Youth Conference Secretariat welcomed the Western Shoshone to Coast Salish territory, and Knowledgeable Aboriginal Youth Advocates gave recognition and solidarity to the guests.
Members of the WSDP and Western Shoshone Nation were in town to protest against the expansion of the Cortez Gold Mines on to more of their traditional territory, which makes up most of Nevada and part of California. Placer Dome, the world’s fifth largest gold company whose headquarters is in Vancouver is involved in this project, which aims to steal Western Shoshone resources from right under their feet. The areas currently under threat of development are Mount Tenabo and Horse Canyon, two important places for the Western Shoshone people. It is home to their creation stories, contains ancient burial sites, ceremonial areas, food and medicinal plants. Since the idea of mining exploration was proposed, Western Shoshone people have protested against it. Visiting Vancouver was another step in the battle for their rights to their own land and resources.
The Western Shoshone Defense Project formed in 1991 to affirm Newe (Western Shoshone) jurisdiction over Newe Sogobia, the Western Shoshone homelands in Nevada. Currently, the US claims federal ownership over this territory, despite the fact that it formally recognized Western Shoshone territory under the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. The US’ justification for its theft of this area is that it argues that the Western Shoshone lost their rights to the land in 1872 as a result of encroachment by non- native Americans, despite the fact that Western Shoshone people continue to live on and use the land, and the majority of the area had not settled by anyone except generations of Shoshone people.
Western Shoshone sisters, Carrie and Mary Dann, inspired Indigenous people throughout the world with their leadership in the WSDP and taking on every colonial battle the US hurled at them. For decades, they fought against nuclear testing and nuclear waste dumps on their lands and for their rights to graze cattle on their own lands.
Carrie Dann has also linked the struggle of Western Shoshone against American colonialism to the struggles of people who are fighting against American imperialism abroad by speaking out against the war in Iraq and discouraging young Indigenous people in the US from joining the American military.
The visit with the delegates from the Western Shoshone Nation and the WSDP opened up space to learn about the persistence and dedication of indigenous fighters and the gains they have made in face of a colonial power. It is important for people in Canada, living within a colonialist nation that was built on the backs and with the blood of Indigenous people, to relate to the struggles of Indigenous people across borders. In order to find most effective methods and strategies for moving forward, Indigenous Nations and non-Indigenous people must work together to support Indigenous people in reclaiming their land, resources and self-determination.
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