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Feds Rustle Shoshone Livestock Again

CRESCENT VALLY, NEWE SOGOBIA, Nev. ? Western Shoshone Indians and sympathetic Nevada stockmen are bracing for the next stage in federal raids on the herds of the elderly sisters and Shoshone traditionalists Mary and Carrie Dann, after a pre-dawn convoy Sept. 22 carried off more than 200 head of cattle for auction.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents staged the Sunday morning roundup as the latest move in a long-standing attempt to collect grazing fees from the Danns and other Shoshone ranchers for the use of what the federal government maintains is "public land." The Western Shoshone traditionalists have refused to pay for decades, maintaining that the rangelands were never legally ceded by their tribe. The raid came just days before the U. S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee is scheduled to meet to "mark up" a bill introduced by U. S. Sen. Harry Reid, D. - Nev., to extinguish the Shoshone land claims.

An anonymous tip on the night of Sept. 19 alerted the Danns that federal agents were planning another raid on their livestock.

The elderly sisters and their family waited on edge for two days before the next siege came in their 30-year struggle with the federal government over their right to graze cattle on Shoshone homelands.

The Danns, now in their 70s, immediately put out a call to supporters to help them bring cattle off the vast remote rangelands of northern Nevada where many Shoshone graze livestock.

Supporters and ranchers, Indian and non-Indian alike, began to arrive on the Dann Ranch, including a group of Shoshone cowboys from the Yomba Shoshone reservation and Chief Raymond Yowell who suffered a $100,000 loss when BLM confiscated and sold his cattle in May.

"It's domestic terrorism," said Carrie Dann of the ongoing federal raids. "The mightiest nation in the world sent its paramilitary to steal our livestock and force us off our land. How can a country that professes to value democracy and human rights act like this? It's morally and ethically wrong."

Throughout Friday and Saturday, the Danns and other ranchers rounded up as many cows as they could locate and herd onto private land before BLM agents and hired wranglers arrived in the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 22.

Meanwhile, other Western Shoshone people planned to stage demonstrations at BLM offices in Elko to protest the raid on the Dann sisters. At press time, the Danns were awaiting the return of federal agents for day two of the siege, which may last through Sept. 25, according to the anonymous tip that initially warned of the raid.

"When they came, it was just after 4 a.m.," said Mary Gibson, a Shoshone woman who had camped out with a group of 11 men, women and children in the rocky canyons near Pine Valley. "We saw a convoy of about 20 vehicles with flashing lights roaring up the valley.

"As I was waiting and praying to the Creator to help us, I could not help but think of how this is how our ancestors felt when they saw the cavalry coming. So many of my people were killed on this land and now it's happening again. The Indian wars are not over."

Gibson said about 40 uniformed federal agents ? all armed with guns ? told them to evacuate the area or they would be arrested. The group was escorted out of the area and told not to return.

"These are Western Shoshone homelands where our people lived and died, where we raise our children and conduct ceremonies. This is our land, and we were driven off at gunpoint," she said.

Along with the caravan of sport utility vehicles came six or seven semi-trucks for hauling livestock off to auction, helicopters used to drive cattle, an airplane, about 20 all-terrain vehicles and more than 50 armed federal agents, Dann said.

As the roundup began, the Danns and others were told to stay off public land while the operation was going on or they would be arrested.

Two county roads leading into Cottonwood Canyon were closed and the entire area was sealed off to people trying to enter the valley.

"We were scared and very worried about what might happen to the Danns and their supporters," said Julie Fischel, an attorney working with the Western Shoshone Defense Project at headquarters in Crescent Valley. "We saw what happened at Waco, so we had people camped out there to witness their actions. We are always peaceful and unarmed in our resistance, but you never know how these kinds of assaults will unfold."

By Sunday night, BLM reported they had seized 227 head of cattle and were loading them onto stock trucks when Carrie Dann insisted on driving down the mountain to the holding pens where her cattle had been taken.

"A BLM vehicle got in front of me and another behind me on that narrow dirt road and drove about 10 miles per hour. It was a delay tactic I'm sure and by the time we got to the holding pens, I could only see the last of my cattle being loaded. I wanted to check the condition of the cattle because when you drive them with helicopters, it makes them panic.

"I tried to go over there, but they told me if I went one inch off the county road, they would arrest me. For what? They were the ones stealing cattle," Dann said.

BLM officials said the livestock would be taken to a holding facility north of Reno, about a six-hour drive from Crescent Valley and auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Nevada Livestock Association chairman David Holmgren and his wife, who also were on the scene, called the situation "further cattle rustling" by the BLM.

"We're the cattlemen's voice against the unlawful seizures of cattle in Nevada," Holmgren said. "Our brand law has been violated, grand larceny of the Dann cattle is being committed and the right to due process of law is a joke right now. We plan to stand against this threat to our liberty with the Western Shoshone people."

Many traditional Western Shoshone people and their legal counsel hold firm that the land is still Western Shoshone land according to the Treaty of Ruby Valley. The treaty granted access and rights of passage to settlers, but never relinquished ownership.

The BLM insists ? but cannot prove to the Shoshones' satisfaction ? that the land is "public land" taken by gradual encroachment over the years.

"If they took it by gradual encroachment, where are all those people who encroached?" asked Carrie Dann. "The only people living out here are Indians. What they are doing now is actually the gradual encroachment they talked about 100 years ago."

Dann said the motive for harassing them is to "beat down" the traditional Shoshone leaders and make an example of them to show other Indian people what will happen if they stand up for their rights.

"Senator Harry Reid has legislation in Congress to pay off the Indians for 15 cents an acre and destroy our claim to the land. Then with Senate bill 719, he wants to privatize the land and sell it to the highest bidders which will be the multi-national gold mining companies. But this is our land and we are going to fight for it."

Mary Dann said, "We've repeatedly asked the federal government for Western Shoshone land transfer documents. If our ancestors agreed to give up or sell this land, we would respect the government. But the federal agencies have never been able to show us any document giving away the land. This is still our homeland."

A recent report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, of which the U.S. is a member, found that the United States is violating the human and civil rights of Western Shoshone people.

The report noted that the U.S. is using illegitimate means to claim ownership and control of Western Shoshone land. It recommended a remedy that will respect the Western Shoshone's rights to the land.