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Carrie Dann, Native American land rights activist, dies

Carrie, left, and her sister Mary Dann on their ranch near Crescent Valley, Nev., in 2002.
Carrie, left, and her sister Mary Dann on their ranch near Crescent Valley, Nev., in 2002. (Laura Rauch/AP)
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Carrie Dann, a Native American land rights activist, Nevada rancher and longtime leader of the Western Shoshone Nation, died Jan. 1 at her home in Crescent Valley, Nev.

Julie Cavanaugh-Bill, a friend and lawyer in Elko who worked with Ms. Dann, confirmed the death but did not provide a specific cause. She was believed to be between 86 and 88 but didn’t have a birth certificate, Cavanaugh-Bill said.

Ms. Dann, who co-founded the Western Shoshone Defense Project in 1991, fought with the federal government for decades over ownership of her ancestral lands in central Nevada. She often worked with her older sister Mary Dann, who died in 2005.

Carrie Dann helped lead efforts to block several northern Nevada mining projects; was a staunch opponent of shipping nuclear waste to the Yucca Mountain site in southern Nevada; and sought relief for tribal residents affected by nuclear weapons testing.

She was among dozens of peace activists arrested along with actor Martin Sheen during a 2011 anti-nuclear protest at the Nevada Test Site north of Las Vegas.

Carrie and Mary Dann grew up on an 800-acre ranch in Crescent Valley once run by their father.

For more than a quarter century, they were at the forefront of efforts to reclaim a vast tract of land spreading across four Western states. They claimed their aboriginal land under the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley was seized by the United States.

Under the treaty, the United States formally recognized Western Shoshone rights to about 60 million acres now covering parts of Nevada, Idaho, Utah and California.

The tribe sued the government for failure to honor the treaty, but courts ruled they were not entitled to compensation. The tribe appealed and the Indian Claims Commission awarded it $26 million in 1979. But the tribe refused to accept the money in exchange for the land.

Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that the tribe lost title to the land when the $26 million was deposited earlier as payment — even though the money was never collected.

The Danns quit paying federal land grazing fees in protest during the 1970s. In 1974, the Bureau of Land Management sued them, claiming they were trespassing by letting their cattle graze on federal land without payment. In 2003, the department seized hundreds of horses and cattle from the Danns.

More recently, Carrie Dann joined other tribal leaders and environmentalists fighting a number of mining projects, including Barrick Gold Corp.’s Cortez Hills project, an expansion at one of the biggest gold mines in North America next to a mountain the tribe considered sacred.

Carrie Dann said Mount Tenabo was home to Western Shoshone creation stories and the water running beneath it is a sacrament important to maintaining the balance and power of life.

“This area is where the seasons of the year were named — in the time before people were here,” she said in 2011.

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