As a fellow at the Western Shoshone Defense Project (WSDP) I was assigned to a variety of responsibilities. The responsibilities extended from answering the telephone to legislative lobbying. I also spent a great deal of time drafting and editing the Western Shoshone United Nations filing and the Western Shoshone Newsletter. I also assisted with inquiries from the public and researched issues involving the Organization of American States and the United Nations.
At the WSDP I was able to accomplish a number of things. I think the biggest accomplishment would be personal – being able to understand how hard the “fight” is on the front lines of human rights work. Human rights in the classroom is purely theoretical. However, at WSDP I was able to learn human rights from a first hand experience. This was awesome. Tangible accomplishments included finishing the Western Shoshone United Nations filing and completing a travel packet for the Western Shoshone delegation to Geneva, Switzerland. I was also able to finish a brochure to pass out at conferences explaining the Western Shoshone situation and its role in the Organization of American States. Last, I was able to finish a summary of the current Western Shoshone litigation. Along with these activities, I often drafted press statements, email alerts and numerous action alerts.
The biggest challenge of being at the WSDP was actually being in the middle
of Nevada. This causes a number of logistical problems. From having only 28.8
dial-up internet to old computers; the work at times seemed weighed down by
basic “things” I was used to being able to work with. Other major
challenges included living in Crescent Valley, NV with the nearest grocery store
40 miles away and little or no activity in the town or surrounding area.
I was able to attend a number of conferences throughout the summer. I traveled to Washington DC to attend the “Front Line Defenders” conference. I also attended the Ford Foundation Conference in New York discussing Human Rights Funding in a New Era. In Nevada I was also able to attend a National meeting of the Western Shoshone, several tribal meetings, and a Western Shoshone gathering on Western Shoshone sacred grounds.
The fellowship was able to give me a real human rights experience. Realizing the actual situation of the Western Shoshone was difficult to grasp on paper, being there changed this. I was able to realize how difficult the battle is for the Western Shoshone. How vast the land area is and how the Western Shoshone live. I was also able to learn that there is no quick fix to many human rights situations. I was also able to experience the difficulties of many human rights victims, the inter-fighting among the victims and than the exploitation of these differences by the general public. Realizing the difficult battle that human rights victims experience has given me renewed energy to continue doing human rights work. I was able to see how little battles are won “every now and than” that make a difference in the overall struggle with human rights violations.
The individual that had the greatest effect on my fellowship was Carrie Dann. Being able to see how she has struggled with the United States Government for so long and still seeing her energy is amazing. The U.S. has taken her livelihood, taken her land, but have yet to take her spirit. Being able to watch her not give into the strongest government in the world and always stay focused on what is best for the Western Shoshone was great. With little formal education, Carrie was able to explain to me the legal arguments and the pros and cons of pending legislation. Her ability to stay in good spirits and never give up her fight was truly inspirational.
My perspective on human rights has certainly changed since being a fellow. Human rights violations before were always something that seemed so far away – off in distance lands. But to see my own government treat individuals so poorly, to steal from them, and to lie to them was an eye opening experience. But I think more importantly was the fact of how little people know of what goes on right here in America regarding human rights violations. We tend to focus our human rights efforts on “Africa” and the “Middle East” but forget about “home.”
I think if I could sum up my experience for the summer and my experience with human rights, it would be something that Carrie Dann told me. “Whatever you do, keep moving forward.”
After my fellowship I have been able to speak with the Amnesty International St. Paul Chapter and also been able to speak on the Western Shoshone situation at St. Thomas Law School on a number of occasions. I also plan on bringing Carrie Dann to Minnesota to speak about her fight and I am planning on traveling to Geneva, Switzerland with the Western Shoshone delegation this spring.
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