RENO, Nevada—On the eve of a highly controversial auction of Western Shoshone cattle, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights made an urgent appeal on Oct. 3 to the United States government to return the Dann sisters' cattle and to halt any further action until its review of the case was concluded.
The commission, an arm of the Organization of American States that is made of up 35 countries in the Western hemisphere including the U.S., forwarded a copy of its request to the Western Shoshone Defense Project and Indian Law Resource Center whose attorneys represent the Western Shoshone.
"The Commission hereby requests that the United States take the urgent measures necessary to return the livestock previously seized from the Danns?and refrain from impounding any additional livestock belonging to the Danns until the procedure before the Commission is complete, including implementation of any final recommendations that may be adopted by the Commission in this matter," wrote Santiago Canton, the commission's executive secretary.
The United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also has criticized the U.S. for these same human rights violations.
Ignoring the request from the highly respected international human rights panel, the Bureau of Land Management auctioned off 232 head of cattle belonging to Western Shoshone elders Carrie and Mary Dann the next day.
BLM spokeswoman Jo Lynn Worley said BLM proceeded with the auction because "the OAS has no jurisdiction in this matter."
The cattle were sold for $59,262 to three out-of-state bidders who submitted their bids by fax while a group of about 50 tribal members, Nevada livestock owners and other supporters protested with signs that read "BLM Cattle Rustlers" and "Don't Buy Stolen Cattle."
It had been a hard two weeks for Carrie and Mary Dann after the Sept. 22 raid and confiscation of their cattle. Carrie Dann said she was tired, but not defeated, emotional, but more determined.
"We've been under attack from the BLM since 1973," she said. "We're old women now and we're just trying to make a livelihood the traditional way, the way we always have, living close to the land. The government is trying to destroy our livelihood and make us indigent. We will probably be on welfare next year."
Dann said she and her sister, now in their 70s, can't make a living any other way in today's technology-oriented economy.
"We're traditional people and this is how we live on the land the Creator gave us. Our religion is tied to this land," she said. "By destroying our traditional ways and rights to the land, they are committing cultural and spiritual genocide against indigenous peoples.
"It's disgraceful how the United States makes international statements about human rights and then commits this kind of assault in our own backyard. It destroys their credibility and moral authority."
Julie Fishel, an attorney with the Western Shoshone Defense Project, said the U.S. has an obligation to honor international human rights laws agreed upon by the nations that are members of the OAS.
"Here we have the most respected human rights panel in the Americas telling the U.S. to halt this action - and they ignore them," she said. "If George Bush is going to try to gain the support of the international community, he needs to respect the decisions of the international bodies like the OAS."
Chris Sewall, an organizer with the Defense Project, said BLM actions and the failure of the U.S. to respond to the OAS may have negative implications for foreign policy as other countries witness attacks against indigenous peoples the Dann sisters have labeled "domestic terrorism."
After the auction, the buyers' identities were kept secret until the cattle could be transported out of BLM's Palomino Valley holding facility. But the Nevada Livestock Association had the cattle tracked and found that BLM had sold them to Jeff Peck of Caldwell, Idaho and Sweeney Gillette of Ontario, Ore.
"It's all about money," said David Holmgren, Chairman of the Nevada Livestock Association. "BLM stole the cattle, Peck and Gillette then participated by purchasing the cattle far below market value to make a fast buck. Now, Armour and Swift Packing Co. are betraying the cattle industry as the profit from the BLM cattle rustling."
At press time the cattle were being slaughtered at the CongAgri Beef Co., which makes Swift Brand meats in Nampa, Idaho and at the Treasure Valley Live Stockyard in Caldwell.
"This is government terrorism on Western ranchers," Holmgren added. "We are networking with property rights groups all over the nation. If we are to survive, we must identify who is with us and who is against us. We are calling for a boycott of Armour and Swift products owned by ConAgri."
In a surprising turn of events, a California cattleman, Boone Tidwell, purchased three bulls belonging to the Danns and donated them back to the grandmothers after learning about the manner in which the cattle were taken from the Danns.
"I'm simply exercising my right as an American to bail out of what I feel is a bad deal and to do the right thing," Tidwell told the Associated Press. "There could be a valid question over the brand as well as the BLM's authority to sell the cattle. I know from my involvement with other ranchers that in Southern California that resolving problems with the federal government is near impossible. I feel sorry for anybody who gets the short end of the stick."
Tom Luebben, an attorney for the Yomba Shoshone said, "Mary and Carrie Dann are doing exactly what the government told Western Shoshones to do in the Treaty of Ruby Valley - raise livestock on Western Shoshone ancestral land. The Treaty is in full force and effect and Western Shoshone title remains unextinguished.
"The BLM assault on the Dann Band is inexcusable and in violation of international law. It should be condemned by every American.
The Interior Department should immediately back off and initiate good faith negotiations to restore the Western Shoshone land base."