Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Professor Thomas Andrews

Second Advisor

Professor Matthew Gerber

Third Advisor

Professor Sarah Krakoff


This project follows the treaty-based legal efforts of sisters Mary and Carrie Dann in their fight to assert Western Shoshone land rights against the US government. Beginning with a 1952 claims case before the Indian Claims Commission, the US attempt to make restitutions for the wrongful taking of Western Shoshone lands itself threatened persistent Shoshone treaty rights. The Dann sisters, along with other, self-described Western Shoshone “traditionals”, undertook to reverse the federal liquidation of Shoshone treaty rights, engaging federal claims commissioners, attorneys, and courts along the way. Their legal activism relied heavily on the assertion of sovereign rights under the Western Shoshone’s 1863 treaty of peace and friendship with the United States. The Danns’ eventual representation before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights resulted in an important international censure against the United States’ indigenous policies. While the US government fervently prosecuted a claims award distribution that would liquidate Shoshone title to treaty lands, the official record of an alternative vision of Shoshone-US relations and the significance of the Treaty of Ruby Valley which the Danns helped to inscribe is a testament to the power of treaty-based Native activism in challenging federal authority in Indian affairs.