Mary Lee Dazey Papers
Scope and Contents
Collection contains material created and collected by Mary Lee Dazey during her time working with the Western Shoshone Defense Project (WSDP) as Development Coordinator. Much of the material in this collection consists of copies of articles, press releases created by WSDP, and supporting materials collected about Yucca Mountain and mining in Nevada, particularly on traditional Western Shoshone (Newe Sogobia) land. One folder of Citizen Alert material, primarily comprised of newsletters, is also included.
- Western Shoshone Defense Project (Organization)
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.
Like many who grew up in the Cold War Era, living in the shadow of the “bomb” and participating in “tuck and roll” drills in school to prepare us for an eventual nuclear war, Mary Lee Dazey at a young age took from this experience that the world is not safe with nuclear weapons. When one recognizes this, there are choices: to distract ourselves and do nothing, or to do something.
Dazey's first experience of doing something was during her last year at San Francisco State University in the early 1980s. She found that there was an organization, the Livermore Action Group (LAG), that was planning direct actions at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (LLL) on the other side of the bay to express the view that nuclear weapons needed to be abolished rather than improved. LAG was holding workshops in direct nonviolent action to prepare for direct action at the LLL. She attended peacekeeper training, so she wouldn't be arrested, and later participated in a blockade of the road leading into the Lab. This was her first experience in direct action and she got a good taste of what activists call "truth before power". Police encircled the protesters with weapons to let them know that they weren’t welcome. Later, a row of activists chained themselves together, including one disabled veteran without legs in a wheelchair, and blockaded the road leading into the LLL, preventing its employees from entering their work site. The group held their stance for a short time, then were removed and led to jail. This experience planted seeds that were to flower later.
After completing her B.A. in English, Dazey lived in Oakland, California. While there, she worked as a substitute teacher, taught a few poetry classes with California Poets in the School, baked, and waited tables. She also spent time hanging out with artists. Later in the 1980s, she met a Western Shoshone named Joe Sanchez through friends and artists Fritz Springmeyer and Michelle Montez. Joe Sanchez was a native activist working for Seventh Generation Fund (SGF) in California. His job, along with Mohawk activist Mike Myers, was economic development. He and Mike traveled to native communities in the U.S. to fund traditional economic development projects in Indian communities. Joe and Fritz, who had become fast friends as young men in Reno, shared music and so many of life’s experiences. Fritz and Michelle (Miki) had an intuition that, with their love of music, the four would become close friends. Joe and Dazey developed a partnership and, after some time, they relocated to Reno to form a family.
Shortly after moving to Reno, changes to SGF caused Joe to began working with Citizen Alert in the newly formed Native American Program. In 1989, Dazey gave birth to a son. Just 3 years later, in 1991, Joe tragically became ill with leukemia. In 1993, after two years of treatments, a remission and recurrence, Joe passed from this world to the next. Mary Lee Dazey began raising their son as a single mom.
In 1994, Dazey was hired as Northern Nevada Coordinator for Citizen Alert, then based in Las Vegas. Citizen Alert was the primary Nevada organization working to stop the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository designed to permanently store high level spent nuclear fuel rods. Formed by activists working to defeat the MX program slated for Nevada, Citizen Alert took up the fight against the Yucca Mountain repository following the passage of the 1987 “Screw Nevada” bill in which the U.S. Congress narrowed the focus from three potential waste storage sites, Washington, Nevada, and Texas, to only the Yucca Mountain site. Citizen Alert focused on education and outreach to Nevada residents by traveling the state to meet residents and build a strong media presence. Later, it joined forces with national antinuclear organizations active at various nuclear weapon production sites around the U.S. Slowly, these nuclear reactor sites and the attendant problem of what to do with the waste gained traction as a platform for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA). This was largely through the work of the Nuclear Information Research Service (NIRS), a Washington, D.C. based organization working with grassroots organizations from areas with the potential for nuclear catastrophe. During ANA’s annual D.C. Days event, groups presented developments about their area of concern to members of ANA and developed strategies, including building team members from ANA participants, to be able to make an effective case to lobby members of Congress.
Citizen Alert’s Native American Program was instrumental in bringing native people’s voices into the discussion. This is especially important as nuclear waste storage and nuclear testing, as well as defense department installations, are all located on traditional Western Shoshone, Paiute, and Washoe lands. Citizen Alert was on the front lines of social justice, working with native people before traditional environmental groups had opened the doors to their voices. In addition to speaking before groups, government bodies, classrooms, and publishing media alerts intended to spawn stories critical to protecting Nevada from the nuclear industry’s deadly waste, Citizen Alert organized events to reach wider audiences and bring more attention to the issues surrounding the use of native lands. Events included Walk Against Waste and protests at the Nevada Test Site led by the late Western Shoshone doctor, activist and author Corbin Harney, annual Nevada’s Not a Wasteland tours hauling a mock waste cask around the state that culminated at the Shoshone reservation in Duckwater through the graces of Lilly Sanchez (Joe’s mother) and other community members.
After Joe passed, Virginia Sanchez (Joe’s sister) became the Native American Program Director for Citizen Alert. She and Dazey traveled to the Shoshone/Paiute McDermitt Reservation to discuss with community members concerns about storing nuclear waste on the reservation, a prospect that developed with the federal government’s 1993 Monitored Retrievable Storage (MRS) Program. The U.S. Department of Energy and a federal negotiator initiated the program through the "baiting" of Native American tribes, tribes that often lacked economic development opportunities, with job development in nuclear waste storage. The Western Shoshone/Paiute McDermitt Tribe decided to entertain the prospect of the MRS program, and many tribal members were concerned. Virginia and Dazey met with the chairman and tribal members to discuss the risks of taking the nuclear industry’s waste, how a temporary facility still involves risks in transporting the nuclear material, and the possibility that the waste may never leave. The tribe withdrew, as did all tribes, and the MRS Program failed.
While Citizen Alert did not continue its Native American program, it always aligned with tribal people on nuclear, military, land rights, and gold mining across Nevada to work with them and support their efforts. This included supporting the work of the Dann sisters in their efforts to continue to raise cattle on their lands and their opposition to digging Mother Earth for her gold. Citizen Alert staff members attended annual spring gatherings on the Dann ranch to strategize with other campers and discuss concerns about land use with the others.
In the late 1990s, the Department of Energy announced its plans to begin to collect nuclear research reactor waste from around the world in countries under the Atoms for Peace program. This program, originally established in the 1950s, provided uranium in exchange for countries' agreement that the fuel would only be used for research and peaceful purposes. The changes in the 1990s meant that the United States would begin to accept the spent fuel from the countries participating in the program. Shipments, sent by sea, would be received in the East Bay of California, off-loaded into train cars destined for the Nevada Test Site. Trains' paths would take the spent reactor fuel through the Feather River Canyon, northern and central Nevada. Borrowing a phrase from a Nevada Senator regarding the risk of transporting waste across the nation’s highways and rails, John Hadder and Dazey organized a "No Mobile Chernobyls" Tour with dozens of organizations in California, Nevada, and Utah. Driven by Virginia Sanchez, her husband, Roger, and Arvela Mascarenas, participants towed mock nuclear waste casks through a three-state tour along the proposed route. One of the primary local concerns was a narrow, winding, rough patch of the rail in Feather River Canyon that has a history of train derailments. During the campaign, an accident occurred on the tracks in question in which a train derailed causing cars to spill their contents into the river. Luckily, the contents were furniture and did not cause a hazmat scenario. While the DOE ultimately continued to send its shipments along the Feather River route, because of the accident and the work of Dazey and other to draw public attention to the risks, the DOE committed to more protections, such as helicopter monitoring and greater security along the route (costing over a million dollars), to ensuring more safety protections for the public.
In 1999, Dazey resigned from Citizen Alert while it was in the process of restructuring. That same year, she began working for the Western Shoshone Defense Project (WSDP) as Development Coordinator. This position entailed writing grant proposals and letters for individual donors, as well as writing articles, and formatting the WSDP newsletter. On behalf of the WSDP, she coordinated with other anti-nuclear organizations around the Divine Strake, an explosion designed to study the effects of bunker buster nukes to be conducted in an area of the Nevada Test Site (NTS). Although the test itself was not nuclear, the explosion was slated to take place within close enough range to contaminate soils, and potentially redistribute contamination in the local area, at the NTS. Through the use of conference calls among anti-nuclear activists, Dazey helped organize events in several states, including northern Nevada, in an attempt to have the test canceled. Events included a demonstration/walk from the federal building in Reno, Nevada to a park where speakers and musicians made their case to the public and the media as well as an event in late October at the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City, Nevada to stop the Divine Strake test. The positive media coverage caused the Divine Strake test to be canceled.
[Note adapted from a biography written by Mary Lee Dazey.]
0.75 Linear Feet (1 box)
Language of Materials
Mary Lee Dazey worked for Citizen Alert and Western Shoshone Defense Project in the 1990s as an activist and coordinator to stop: the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain; Divine Strake; the use of the Nevada Test Site; and other Native American related topics, such as mining and land use on traditional Western Shoshone, Paiute, and Washoe lands. Collection contains material created and collected by Mary Lee Dazey during her time working with the Western Shoshone Defense Project as Development Coordinator.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated by Mary Lee Dazey in March 2018.
- Western Shoshone Defense Project (Organization)
- Dazey, Mary Lee (Creator, Person)
- Citizen Alert (Organization) (Organization)
- Guide to the Mary Lee Dazey Papers
- Jessica Maddox
- April 2018
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository
Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA