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  • "We cannot be severed from the breasts that feed us." - Carrie Dann on Mother Earth

    She has always had her hair short, she wears denim jeans, she smokes marlboro lights and keeps her cigarette butts in one of the pockets of her sling bag. She has a childlike toothless smile and an infectious laughter. She has an almost childlike presence, and she says whatever she wants to say and does not apologize for who and what she is.

    Her name is Carrie Dann, long time activist for the indigenous rights and human rights of the Western Shoshone People.

    Carrie Dann is the main respondent in US vs Dann 470 US 39 (1985) accused by the US Federal government through the Bureau of Land Management for trespassing and over grazing her cattle and livestock on public land in light of the of the Western Shoshone People's claim for compensation for the loss of aboriginal title to lands in Western States.

    The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ruled that the United States 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.

    "The Danns, and by extension the Western Shoshone tribe, and by extension all Native Americans, do have rights to traditional lands, and the United States has an affirmative duty to protect those rights," said Deborah Schaaf, an attorney for the Indian Law Resource Center, which represented the Danns in the case.

    The same Carrie Dann is the lead Petitioner among other groups including the Western Shoshone People in another case versus the United States that is now on appeal at the Ninth Circuit Court to prevent the Federal government of the United States from granting rights and permits to mining companies to extract gold on Mount Tenabo, a sacred land for the Western Shoshone People. They lost it in the lower courts, hence the appeal.

    I have no legal standing whatsoever in any of these cases I am merely a student of life in pursuit of learning things that are not limited to my own locality, and two days ago, I have had the privilege and honor of meeting, chatting and sharing bahu (smoke) with Carrie Dann, a Western Shoshone grandmother.

    I was both starstruck and overwhelmed but Carrie and I bonded instantly because she made it easy for me.

    Carrie is one who would not pass up on a question and keeps the conversation going with her witty and profound remarks. At one point she asked me if I believe in "god" to which I gamely replied, "define god and I will answer your question", then she broke into laughter and said "now we're talking". I laughed with her and in my mind I said to myself, when I am old and wrinkly I want to be just like her.

    I asked Carrie what she thought was the most effective in moving her advocacy forward, and she said, "working together with others. I could not have done it alone." It almost sounded as simple as that and I must have uttered that to her loudly that she looked at me with those deep brown eyes and told me that it was not at all that easy. Some of her own people thought she was crazy and out of her mind for fighting the government and that she wished that people were more like her, just as a crazy and she laughed again.

    I grilled her with questions for about an hour and shared my experiences in my coastal communities at home, informed her of my purpose in coming here and the things that I want to do when I go back home.

    Our conversation went from environmental advocacy to human rights advocacy, to stories of creation. She would not tell me the creation story of the Western Shoshone and I could not blame her because not everybody can understand, not everybody can believe. She told me to find an elderly in my people and ask our creation story. She told me to know and understand my past because it makes up who and what I am, and that I should be proud no matter what.

    On our way out of the building we saw a plastic globe and she asked me, "show me your land" and as I pointed my finger to the dots on the southernmost part of the Philippine Islands, she said, "man, that's your land? I can't even see it!" then she turns the plastic globe to North America and said this is our land but the United States government is saying it is not ours, but we were here long before they came here!"

    I have not reviewed my notes as I am writing this, nor have I listened to my recording of our conversation as I wanted to write something about Carrie, up close and personal as I recall it.

    We shared bahu (ba-hu or smoke) at the parking lot and I thought it would be something as exotic as it sounded and it turned out to be just marboro lights.

    It is just like Carrie, she is very eloquent, very opinionated, very intelligent, very sure of herself, but up close and personal, Carrie is just a toothless grandmother who smokes cigarettes and wear jeans who loves to laugh and joke about almost everything.

    This is the youtube link of the 20 minute version of Carrie Dann's story and the rest of the Western Shoshone people in their fight for their rights over their aboriginal lands in Nevada.
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