Two Sisters’ Story Unforgotten

Western Shoshone Defense Project Featured in University Libraries New Mining Exhibit

Dann Ranch landscape image with crows on fence posts in foreground and mountains in background

Photograph of the Dann Ranch, June 2, 1997

Two Sisters’ Story Unforgotten

Western Shoshone Defense Project Featured in University Libraries New Mining Exhibit

Photograph of the Dann Ranch, June 2, 1997

Dann Ranch landscape image with crows on fence posts in foreground and mountains in background

Photograph of the Dann Ranch, June 2, 1997

For the past several months, the University Libraries staff have been curating a portion of the new University Libraries mining exhibit, “Nuggets: Short Stories About Nevada Mining,” which features portions of the Western Shoshone Defense Project collection.  The exhibit was made possible by the generous support of IGT.

While the physical exhibit was developing and taking shape on the walls inside the Knowledge Center, the installation team and Special Collections staff, along with the rest of the world, learned of the passing of Carrie Dann, rancher, grandmother and co-founder of the Western Shoshone Defense Project. Carrie passed away on January 1, 2021 at her home in Crescent Valley, Nevada.  A Newe (Western Shoshone) woman and activist for Newe land sovereignty and rights, Carrie had no birth certificate, but was believed to be between 86 and 88 years old.

two women (sisters) sitting in lawn chairs in front of a light blue Toyota Tacoma truck
Carrie (L) & Mary Dann, circa late 1990’s

Carrie and her sister Mary grew up and lived on the ranch in Crescent Valley, once owned by their father.  For decades, both sisters fought to reclaim Newe traditional lands covered by the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley.  Under the treaty, the United States formally recognized Western Shoshone rights to about 60 million acres covering four states, including a vast swath of Nevada. Decades ago, the tribe sued the government for failure to honor the treaty and the legal battles began.

Western Shoshone Defense Project staff meeting around table at project headquarters
Photograph of Western Shoshone Defense Project staff, circa late 1990s

The Western Shoshone Defense Project was founded in 1991 by the Western Shoshone National Council to provide support to the Dann sisters as they faced confiscation of their livestock by the United States Bureau of Land Management. The sisters grazed their livestock on unceded Western Shoshone homelands and as a form of protest, did not pay the grazing fees imposed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Western Shoshone Defense Project

The decades of records and documents generated by the Western Shoshone Defense Project comprise a collection that now resides on campus as part of the University Libraries Special Collections and University Archives department. The sisters lived this history and saved items documenting the Defense Project's mission to affirm Western Shoshone jurisdiction over Western Shoshone ancestral homelands by protecting, preserving, and restoring Shoshone rights and lands for present and future generations.

The collection documents the sisters’ and other members of the Western Shoshone Nation’s resistance, and also records the Dann sisters’ decades long tenacious legal battle against the United States government’s control of Western Shoshone ancestral lands, a fight which took them all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and the United Nations.

handwritten sign marking area as an area of cultural and spiritual significance, posted on fence
Photograph of Western Shoshone National Council cultural site sign, June 2004

That this collection, which so intimately chronicles this significant battle to preserve unceded homelands would be gifted to a public non-tribal affiliated institution is rare. However, a chain of events precipitated the donation. On Earth Day in 2005, Mary Dann died in a ranch accident. Her sister Carrie, then 79 years old, sought guidance from board members of the Western Shoshone Defense Project concerning what to do about the materials. Carrie, understanding that there exists no central administrative repository for Western Shoshone papers and wanting to have these materials available as an educational tool, signed a deed of gift in April 2013 to allow the University of Nevada, Reno Special Collections and University Archives to provide such a site in order to safeguard and make these records available to everyone. The department is thankful to Shayne del Cohen, who served on the State Historical Records Advisory Board with University Libraries Manuscripts & Archives Librarian Jacquelyn Sundstrand, for paving the way.  Shayne made the introductions and told Carrie about the work of the department.

In 2013 the department received a one-year grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to organize what was then 120 linear feet of records during 2014-15. There were many segments within this collection that, once pulled back together, helped to illuminate the chronology of events. The department was very fortunate to hire our processing archivist, Mary Gibson, who is Western Shoshone and also worked with the Defense Project, bringing her own intimate knowledge of the events and culture to our work.

As the Western Shoshone Defense Project struggled to fight the United States government, the encroachment on the Western Shoshone lands continued.  Despite the best efforts of the Western Shoshone and environmentalists to protect the sacred lands surrounding Mount Tenabo, the Cortez Hills mining project was granted permission to dig an extensive open pit gold mine. To reach the microscopic gold, the company dug below the water table, disturbing the waters that to Western Shoshone are 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,” Carrie Dann said in 2011.

Learn More and Get Involved

Portrait of an older woman
Manuscripts & Archives Librarian Jacque Sundstrand

The University Libraries is privileged to include Western Shoshone Defense Project collection photos and documents in our upcoming exhibit Nuggets: Short Stories About Nevada Mining

Please join us on March 25 at 7 p.m. for a virtual “talk and tour” led by Manuscripts & Archives Librarian Jacque Sundstrand, as we explore the Western Shoshone Defense Project and Carrie and Mary Dann’s legacy.  All are welcome and the event is free but registration is required. To register, please visit Eventbrite.  For questions, please contact Robin Monteith at robinmonteith@unr.edu.

About the University Libraries

The University Libraries embrace intellectual inquiry and innovation, nurture the production of new knowledge, and foster excellence in learning, teaching and research. During each academic year, the Libraries welcomes more than 1.2 million visitors across its network of three branch libraries: the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, the DeLaMare Science and Engineering Library and the Savitt Medical Library. Visitors checked-out more than 80,000 items and completed more than 2 million database searches.

Special Collections and University Archives

Special Collections and University Archives contains the Libraries’ rare books, book arts collection, manuscript collections, and University archives. The materials in Special Collections and University Archives are available to all individuals for research and scholarship. For questions about Special Collections and University Archives questions please email Department Head Kim Anderson at kda@unr.edu or call 775-682-5614.

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