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American Indian activist Mary Dann dies in ranch accident

Published by MAC on 2005-04-27

American Indian activist Mary Dann dies in ranch accident

By Tom Gardner, The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune

27th April 2005

RENO, Nev. - Activist Mary Dann, who with her sister helped represent the Shoshone Nation in its effort to reclaim millions of acres they claimed as their ancestral land, has died in an accident on her rural central Nevada ranch.

Dann apparently had an accident on an all-terrain vehicle while she was repairing fence on the Crescent Valley ranch Friday night, according to Julie Fishel of the Western Shoshone Defense Project.

Fishel said Dann was in her early 80s but had never disclosed her exact age.

Patricia Paul said her aunt ''died as she would have wanted - with her boots on and hay in her pocket.''

For more than a quarter century, Dann and her sister Carrie were at the forefront of efforts to reclaim a vast tract of land spreading across four states. They claimed it was their aboriginal land, which was seized by the United States under the Treaty of Ruby Valley, enacted two years before the end of the Civil War.

''We're the ones that know which is right and which is wrong,'' Mary Dann said in a 2003 interview with The Associated Press.

Some tribal members, however, considered the Dann sisters adversaries because their cause and its publicity foiled years of attempts to distribute federal money to members under a land-claim award. She and her sister opposed distribution of the money and refused to pay to graze livestock on a federal allotment near their ranch.

Though ''traditional'' tribal members such as the Danns rejected the notion of a claim, another Shoshone band did file for settlement. In the late 1970s, the Indian Claims Commission awarded the Shoshones $26 million, deciding the tribe had lost the land by the ''gradual encroachment'' of white settlers.

However, the money went untouched because a majority of Shoshones could never agree to accept it. With interest, the amount of the payment has grown to more than $140 million, said Raymond Yowell, chief of the Western Shoshone Nation.

While the claims panel was one front in the battle, a pasture near the Danns' ranch became another.

In 1974, the Bureau of Land Management filed suit against the Danns, claiming they were trespassing by allowing their cattle to graze on federal land and refusing to pay grazing fees. The case went through the courts to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1985 that the tribe had lost title to the land when the $26 million was deposited as payment - even though the money was never collected.

Mary Dann, who grew up with her sister on the 800-acre ranch once run by their father, usually sat quietly alongside more vocal Carrie in scores of public appearances and court hearings.

''Mary was quite a strong person. We're trying to absorb the suddenness of it happening,'' Yowell said on Saturday.

Carrie Dann said her sister would not want her death to interrupt the continuing court challenges.

''This was Mary's life work,'' she said. ''All these years we've been fighting and the courts still haven't done anything. As far as we're concerned we will live up to our spiritual beliefs and nothing will change that. Mary believed that and lived by it and so do I.''

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