Western Shoshone Defense Project Records

Identifier: 2013-10

Scope and Contents

Much of the material is derived from the Western Shoshone Defense Project's (WSDP) first nineteen years as a non-profit, grassroots Western Shoshone organization advocating land and treaty rights. The material also represents Carrie Dann’s involvement in Indian politics with associated traditional Western Shoshone councils and organizations. This collection offers insight into Native American sovereignty issues, specifically in the decades long struggle of Mary, Carrie, and the Western Shoshone Nation as they argued, protested, and petitioned the U. S. federal courts, human rights forums, mining industry, nuclear industry, and federal agencies in proposed plans and projects that would greatly impact the cultural resources, land use, and spiritual and sacred sites of Western Shoshone. Other Indigenous tribes and nations facing similar issues on a global scale.

The collection consists of administrative records, correspondence and memorandums, legal cases, archival documents, film scripts, newsletters, pamphlets, brochures, news clippings, essays and research materials found in magazines and journal publications, audio and video recordings, posters, ephemera, maps, and photographs. Prior to the receipt of this collection, the materials were located in the attic of Carrie’s home in Crescent Valley, Nevada. The materials were contained in boxes or loosely stacked on the tops of boxes or desk with little to no organization. As a result, it was necessary to discover and reconstruct any organization which had been lost and to create a new arrangement for users.

As part of this new arrangement, duplicates were discarded. Photocopies were made of the news clips and the materials printed on thermal copy paper, since both degrade with time, so originals have been discarded. Materials showing the work of rodents infesting the papers have also been copied, when possible. In some instances, two copies of the same document were kept if annotations were made to one. When examining the papers, researchers need to be cognizant about the common practice of recycling paper by the Western Shoshone Defense Project staff. Paper that had been printed on previously would be re-used, causing the reverse side to have irrelevant content and context from the other side. The WSDP relocated their office and files several times throughout its lifetime. Due to a smoldering fire at one of the office locations, about one-fourth of the papers have been affected with smoke damage. For the badly affected materials, photocopies were made and the marred original discarded.

Use of the Western Shoshone Defense Project Records is not necessarily straight forward due to its complexity, with identical and concurrent issues and concerns happening with the Western Shoshone National Council or other individuals. Distinction between the groups and their issues are blurred, so in order to get a complete picture of any one topic, it is essential that the researcher look in additional groupings in this collection.

The WSDP Records are divided into nine groups: Group 1: Dann Family; Group 2: Western Shoshone Defense Project; Group 3: Western Shoshone National Council; Group 4: Seventh Generation Fund; Group 5: Indian Law Resource Center; Group 6: Nevada Test Site; Group 7: League of North American Indians; Group 8: Bureau of Land Management; and Group 9: Audio and Visual Materials.

Group 1: Dann Family, consists of the personal papers of the family, which documents the acquirement of property, the establishment and operation of the Dewey Dann Ranch, and the legal cases of various family members. These materials date from 1926-2004. Many of the files correspond with legal court cases that involved the Dann family’s assertion of the right to land use and occupancy within their ancestral land boundaries. Group 1 is divided into two series: Series 1: Dann Family Papers; and Series 2: Legal Cases. Series 2 has been further divided into subseries: Subseries 1: Mary Dann and Carrie Dann Trespassing Case; Subseries 2: Mary Dann and Carrie Dann Livestock Foreclosure; Subseries 3: Tim Dann Hunting and Firefighting case, and Subseries 4: Clifford Dann Assault Case. Materials are arranged by family member and in chronological order.

Group 2: Western Shoshone Defense Project, is comprised predominately of materials that center on the issues and concerns of Western Shoshone sovereignty, endorsed by the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. These materials date from 1938-2011 and represent the organization’s administrative, technical, legal, research support services, education and outreach, cultural promotion and preservation to constituents, affiliates, and supporters in efforts to support Western Shoshone land rights, sovereignty and environmental justice. Group 2 is divided into fifteen series: Series 1: Administrative Records; 2: Research and Resource Materials; 3: Conferences, Events, Trainings, and Projects; Series 4: Grazing, Trespass and Roundup Issues; Series 5: Land Rights, Legislation and Distribution Issues; Series 6: Cultural Issues; Series 7: Human Rights Issues; Series 8: Public Land Issues; Series 9: Nuclear Issues; Series 10: Mining Issues; Series 11: Environmental Issues; Series 12: Water and Water Rights Issues; Series 13: Legal Issues; Series 14: Alliances, Support Groups and Other Organizations, and Series 15: Miscellaneous. Due to its complexity, Series 10: Mining, has been divided into the following subseries: Subseries 1: General Issues; Subseries 2: Mining Companies; 3: Cortez/Pipeline; and Subseries 4: Great Basin Mine Watch. Materials in this group are arranged both by subject and chronologically.

Group 3: Western Shoshone National Council, contains materials of the traditional Council of the Western Shoshone Nation that was either collected by Carrie during the twenty-six year period as a representative for the Dann Band, or by the Western Shoshone Defense Project in order to support, expand, or impart knowledge and information sharing. Materials include administrative records (incorporation papers, agendas and meeting minutes, correspondence, policies, financial records, general tribal government information, newsletters, press releases, news clips, and research materials) as well as records documenting issues of sovereign territorial title of the Western Shoshone Nation. This is reflected by the materials documenting the numerous legal cases involving the Western Shoshone National Council, the Indian Claims Commission, and the Western Shoshone Legal Defense and Education Association, followed by the numerous attempts of legislative remedy to extinguish Western Shoshone title.

Group 4: Seventh Generation Fund, contains the administrative records of the Seventh Generation Fund, and the financial and grant records of the Western Shoshone Defense Project. The Seventh Generation Fund is a non-profit Indigenous organization that administrated all financial matters of the Western Shoshone Defense Project, in addition to providing training and technical assistance. This group spans the years 1990-2010, and is divided into three series: Series 1: Administrative Records; Series 2: Western Shoshone Defense Project Financial Records; and Series 3: Western Shoshone Defense Project Grant Records. With the exception of the Grants Records, which are arranged alphabetically by foundation or charity name, the series are arranged chronologically.

Group 5: Indian Law Resource Center (ILRC), contains the records of a law and advocacy organization that represented Mary and Carrie Dann and the Western Shoshone while in pursuit of justice at international forums in order to reclaim and control their sovereign, aboriginal territory. The materials were accumulated by the Western Shoshone Defense Project and consists of Indian Law Resource Center’s administrative records (annual reports, correspondence, publications, conference materials, newsletters, press releases and news articles), materials that reflect the case work, conventions, and international proceedings of the Organization of American States, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Accompanying these materials is information pertaining to working groups and forums on Indigenous Peoples’ human rights. The materials date from 1984-2010, and are separated into two series: Series 1: Indian Law Resource Center; and Series 2: International Human Rights Cases. Materials are arranged chronologically. Group 6: Nevada Test Site and Yucca Mountain, is comprised of federal and state agencies’ materials, advisory board committees, and Native and non-Native anti-nuclear organizational materials. It consists of correspondence, meeting minutes, promotional materials, research and reports, newsletters, news articles, press releases, environmental impact approvals, nuclear legislation, fact sheets and educational materials, and subject oriented materials about radiation and radioactivity, health effects, transportation issues, and nuclear energy information. The materials date from 1964-2006, and are broken down into four series: Series 1: Federal and State Agency Files, followed by Subseries 1: Federal Agencies; and Subseries 2: Nevada Agencies, Administrations and Related Organizations; Series 2: Anti-Nuclear Organizations and Perspectives, are followed by Subseries 1: Shoshone and Paiute Anti-Nuclear Organizations and Perspectives; Subseries 2: Other Indigenous Anti-nuclear Perspectives and Organizations; Subseries 3: Non-Indigenous Anti-Nuclear Perspectives and Organizations; Series 3: Subject and Miscellaneous Files, and finally, Series 4: Publications, News Clippings, News Stories and Other Media Information. Materials arranged chronologically unless otherwise noted.

Group 7: League of North American Indians and Western Shoshone and Affiliated Tribes, consists of the League of North American Indians (LONAI) and its chapter organization. The records in this group are divided into two series: Series 1: League of North American Indians; and Series 2: Western Shoshone and Affiliated Tribes. Series 1 contains minutes, reports, correspondence, legislative bills, and conference materials that pertain to the national organization. Series 2 contain the materials of the Western Shoshone and Affiliated Tribes, which were recognized as the early traditional council, and includes correspondence, copies of Shoshone treaties, petitions, legislation, and topical issues such as income taxes on federal land, inadequate police protection, illegal hunting, Indian custom marriages, the Ruby Valley Indian Reservation, newsletters and news clips. The date ranges from 1863-1979 and arrangement is chronological.

Group 8: Bureau of Land Management, primarily contains Bureau of Land Management’s general correspondence, regulations and guidelines, plans, publications, and environmental reports in relation to proposed public land projects. Information on livestock and grazing, fire management, and geothermal energy reflects many of the projects. Additional materials include general information about the federal agency, news articles, advisory boards and related public land use committees, which includes meeting minutes. The group is divided into six series: Series 1: Correspondence; Series 2: Bureau of Land Management Advisory Boards and Related Public Land Use Committees; Series 3: Bureau of Land Management Publications, Manuals, and Reports; Series 4: General Animal, Livestock, and Grazing Issues; Series 5: Fire Management; and Series 6: Geothermal. Materials span the years 1971-2010, and are arranged chronologically.

Group 9: Audio and Visual Materials, is comprised of the Western Shoshone Defense Project’s audio and video collection. Much of the material was produced by the staff and volunteers of the organization during the course of their work documenting the activities in which they were involved. Video footage of the Dann livestock roundups, protest actions, meetings with federal agents and mine representatives, conference and gatherings hosted or attended by the employees, is all included. The Western Shoshone Defense Project did not make the only films and documentaries but also included are other national and international works, as well as nationally acclaimed documentaries made about Carrie, Mary, and the Western Shoshone land claim issues. Audio materials was created by John O’Connell, Mary and Carrie’s attorney, during his work with the Western Shoshone in an attempt to ward off the Indian Claims Commission proceedings during the 1970-1980’s. This group is made up of two series: Series 1: Video; and Series 2: Audio. Material is dated from 1965-2008 and is arranged using the numbering system developed by the Western Shoshone Defense Project for internal use.

This project was supported by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.


  • 1863-2011
  • Majority of material found within 1930 - 2011


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Administrative History

Carrie Dann (1932-2021), a traditional Western Shoshone, who together with her sister Mary (1923-2005), have been in the forefront of decades-long court battles to reclaim Shoshone ancestral lands in Nevada and bordering states. For over forty years, the Dann sisters and the traditional people of the Western Shoshone Nation have fought to preserve their ancient homeland. Both Carrie and Mary upheld a fundamental principle of the Newe’s (Western Shoshone) worldview, with the belief that they were put on these lands by the Creator with a responsibility to protect and preserve Newe Sogobia (Western Shoshone homelands) for the future generations of all life. They lived their lives dedicated to preserving their traditional lands and fulfilling their responsibility to the Creator and Newe Sogobia. Both sisters were born adjacent to the Dann ranch in a traditional birthing hut to Dewey and Sophie Dann and were raised on the family ranch near Crescent Valley, Nevada. For much of their lives, the Danns lived in an extended family group of brothers, nieces, nephews, and Carrie’s children and grandchildren. Mary and Carrie, along with their siblings were raised by their grandmother, Mary Hall, and were taught the traditional ways of the Western Shoshone people. After the death of their parents, Mary would become the matriarch of the family and the primary manager of the ranching operation.

Carrie, primed in her young adult years in Indian politics, would become actively involved with traditional councils and organizations in the protection and preservation of Western Shoshone sovereignty. During the late 1950’s into the early 1960’s, Carrie served as secretary to the Western Shoshone and Affiliated Tribes, led by hereditary chief, Frank Temoke, Sr. It was also a time when Indian Termination was the policy of the United State and the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) was a mechanism used to advance the termination of Indian tribes.

The ICC was created in 1946 to hear claims of Indian tribes against the United States. This quasi-judicial panel was created to address the grievances and to provide financial relief to Indian tribes and nations whose lands and territories were taken by the United States. The United States offered a monetary compensation for territory loss, but a caveat of the ICC provision would be the relinquishment of all rights to raise future claims for any loss of lands. In 1951, the Bureau of Indian Affairs convinced some Western Shoshone to file a claim before the Indian Claims Commission, seeking compensation for the “taking” of all Western Shoshone lands. Throughout the proceedings (1951-1979) the traditional Newe asserted that the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty was still in effect and that they still owned and occupy the land. By accepting the monetary compensation, Newe Sogobia would be ceded to the United States.

Continuing into the 1970’s, both Carrie and Mary were involved with the land rights organization, the Western Shoshone Legal Defense and Education Association (formerly Sacred Land Association). The organization was eventually transformed into the Western Shoshone National Council, the traditional governing body of the Western Shoshone Nation. Carrie was the representative of the Dann Band.

In 1973, the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) demanded that Mary remove her cattle and horses from the land surrounding the Dann ranch. The BLM told Mary that if she refused, they would proceed to charge the Dann's with trespassing on United States lands. Mary told the agent the livestock were on Western Shoshone land, and unless the agent could prove the land was owned by the United States, the livestock would stay. In 1974, the BLM filed trespass charges against Mary and Carrie, both sisters having refused to acknowledge the BLM and the United States’ ownership of Newe Sogobia. To their knowledge, the land was considered Western Shoshone territory and the United States did not have jurisdiction.

As litigation ensued in Mary and Carrie Dann vs. USA, and with the support of traditional leaders from the Western Shoshone National Council led by Chief Raymond Yowell, the Dann's maintained that the United States did not have legal title to Western Shoshone lands. In a series of complex arguments and decisions heard before the U. S. District Court of Nevada four times, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals three times, and the U. S. Supreme Court once, the Federal Courts disagreed with each other about whether title had been extinguished through the process of the Indian Claims Commission Act. Court authorities finally arrived at a District Court decision that the Western Shoshone retained title until the ICC award in 1979. Throughout the entire process of litigations, title to the land was never argued. At a final hearing in 1991, Mary and Carrie continued to exert their sovereign rights to support themselves on their ancestral lands and continued to graze cattle on “public lands.”

As a result of their decision to graze their livestock without a legitimate grazing permit, the BLM confiscated the livestock in November 1992. During the roundup, their brother Clifford, in defense of his family’s property and livelihood, dowsed himself with gasoline and threatened to ignite himself. Rushed by federal agents before ignition, Clifford was arrested and charged with assault on a federal officer and would spend nine months in prison for endangering a federal officer and paid a hefty fine.

The Western Shoshone Defense Project (WSDP) was created in 1991 by the Western Shoshone National Council (WSNC), to assist and provide support services to the Dann family, in response to BLM’s claim that the Dann's were trespassing on public lands and issued a notice to impound their livestock. At the organization’s inception, Native and non-Native volunteers from activist groups representing Native sovereignty, anti-nuclear, and social and environmental justice movements organized to defend Mary and Carrie Dann against the BLM’s threats and to attest to the federal government’s abuses and violations of Western Shoshone land rights within their homelands. Carrie was the director of the WSDP organization. Some of the volunteers transitioned into paid staff. Stephane Trustorff-Luchini was the project coordinator from 1991-1992, followed by Rip Lonewolf, 1993-1995. Bernice Lalo worked as the coordinator shortly after Mr. Lonewolf, around the period of 1995 and into 1996. Some of the staff and/or volunteers that worked throughout the years included Jennifer Allen, Marianna Aue, Larson Bill, Heidi Blackeye, Urusla Chanse, Helen Dave, M. Lee Dazey, Julie Fishel (Cavanaugh-Bill), Matthew Haun, Matthew Frye, Christopher Sewall, Anine Smith, James Stroud, and Lois Whitney.

Activities of the WSDP focused on the prevention of BLM threats towards the traditional Western Shoshone cattle ranchers/grazers who continued to maintain their livelihood on Western Shoshone lands. With the assistance of support alliances and networks, the WSDP were tasked to expose and counter the gold mining industry’s destruction of cultural sites and to protect the integrity of lands and waters through public education, documentation and action. The WSDP staff worked with Western Shoshone communities and the general public to share information about cultural, spiritual, environmental, and human rights concerns in Newe Sogobia. The WSDP’s active support of Western Shoshone based organizing centered on nuclear and military development in Newe Sogobia, with the Nevada Test Site and Yucca Mountain situated within ancestral land boundaries.

The WSDP assisted the Western Shoshone Nation and tribal groups in petitioning human rights abuses to the international forums of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Indian Law Resource Center represented the Dann's and Western Shoshone at the international level. Attorney Julie Fishel worked pro bono on their case and eventually joined the WSDP staff to work with land reclamation, the ongoing trespass and grazing issues of Western Shoshone ranchers, and the Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Act legislation.

The Western Shoshone National Council, established in 1984 as the traditional governing body of the Western Shoshone Nation, organized to counter the effects of the ICC and the court decision in the Dann case, to seek an equitable resolution to the disputed lands and arbitrate negotiations with the United States. Based on their unwavering position that they never relinquished title or their fundamental relationship to their land, the Western Shoshone National Council entered into lawsuits, the land and the treaty served as the subject of the litigations. Both the Western Shoshone Defense Project and the Western Shoshone National Council worked in concert to stop the Western Shoshone Claims Distribution legislation, and rather than just accepting the inevitable and controversial payment of the ICC judgment, sought to include land provisions written into the legislative bills.

Mary and Carrie were nationally and internationally recognized as land and environmental defenders, Indigenous human rights activists. They have been recipients of numerous awards, including, in 1993, the Right Livelihood Award, the equivalent to the Nobel Peace Prize. Carrie and Mary and the Western Shoshone have been subjects of books, academic papers, essays, law and human rights journals, and award-winning documentaries.

Mary Dann died on April 22, 2005 in an accident that happened on her family ranch.

Carrie Dann died on January 1, 2021.

As of 2022, the Western Shoshone Defense Project continues to serve its original function of protecting Western Shoshone lands from outside interests.


62.4 Linear Feet (67 boxes)

Language of Materials



The Western Shoshone Defense Project Records were originally maintained by Carrie and Mary Dann, two traditional Western Shoshone ranchers living in northeastern Nevada. The Defense Project's mission is to affirm Western Shoshone jurisdiction over Western Shoshone ancestral homelands by protecting, preserving, and restoring Shoshone rights and lands for present and future generations based on cultural and spiritual traditions. It was established in 1991 by the Western Shoshone National Council to provide support to Mary and Carrie Dann as they faced confiscation of their livestock which they grazed on Western Shoshone homelands without paying grazing fees to the Bureau of Land Management and remains active to this day.


Arranged into the following series: 1) Dann Family; 2) Western Shoshone Defense Project; 3) Western Shoshone National Council; 4) Seventh Generation Fund; 5) Indian Law Resource Center; 6) Nevada Test Site; 7) League of North American Indians and Western Shoshone Affiliated Tribes; 8) Bureau of Land Management; 9) Audio and Visual Materials.

Technical Requirements

Some of the audio and video recordings may not be available due to format.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Carrie Dann, Western Shoshone land activist, co-founder, and executive director of the WSDP from 1992-2010, donated her personal papers and the records that the WSDP generated, received, and collected to the Special Collections Department in 2013.

Separated Materials

Photographs have been removed and placed into the Special Collections Photo Archives as collection UNRS-P2015-11.

  • Duplicates of materials and those materials not relavant to the collection discarded
Guide to the Records of the Western Shoshone Defense Project
Mary Gibson and Jacquelyn Sundstrand
September 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
This project was supported by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)