Nothing divine about bombs, Western Shoshone charge

A huge conventional bomb test — ironically named “Divine Strake” — has been postponed “indefinitely,” but the struggle goes on. That was the message June 3 as protesters gathered in Reno, Nev., to continue their opposition to plans to detonate 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil at the Nevada Test Site, where over 900 nuclear tests took place between 1951 and 1992.

“There is nothing divine about something that is built for destruction of life,” Western Shoshone Indian leader Carrie Dann told demonstrators. “We all need to stand up and say ‘Hell no, we don’t want this stuff around here.’ We don’t need it. We have enough weapons.”

The Nevada Test Site sits on land recognized under the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley as belonging to the Western Shoshone Nation.

Under pressure from protests in the area and beyond, a lawsuit, and critical findings of a United Nations panel, federal authorities first put off the test to June 23, and then last week announced its indefinite postponement.

“Whether it was through the United Nations decision in favor of Western Shoshone rights or whether it was the filing of the lawsuit here in the domestic courts or all the actions people took across the country and around the world, what it demonstrates is that we have the power to put a halt to some of these destructive activities,” Julie Fishel, an advocate for the Western Shoshone Defense Project, said in a telephone interview.

Fishel warned, however, that plans for the test are sure to be revived. “People need to be vigilant, and non-Indian people need to stand behind indigenous struggles,” she said.

Federal officials had planned the test to be 280 times larger than the similarly composed bomb that destroyed the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995. They claimed it would not stir up radioactive contamination from earlier nuclear tests. But area residents and elected officials, including Utah’s Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, expressed concern that it might do just that.

A lawsuit filed in April by two “downwinders” and four members of the Western Shoshone Nation called the test a “clear and present danger” to the health of people living downwind of the site.

In a ruling the previous month on a complaint brought by the Western Shoshone Defense Project and others, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged the U.S. government to halt any plans to use Western Shoshone lands for private development or for environmentally destructive government projects.

The lawsuit and the complaint to the UN are part of the Western Shoshone Nation’s long struggle over rights to lands covering much of Nevada and stretching into neighboring states, which they say are protected by the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley.

“We have been telling people for a long time that the Western Shoshone land issue and the Treaty of Ruby Valley protects everyone,” Fishel said. “While the Western Shoshone have always maintained they are willing to share their land, activities must respect their spiritual beliefs that the water, the air and the land are sacred — you cannot conduct military activities like nuclear testing on these lands.”

Federal authorities first acknowledged that Divine Strake was intended to simulate a low-yield nuclear weapon, and then claimed it was only for conventional weapons research. But, Fishel said, “there is nothing it could be used for except nuclear simulation, and they’re doing that at the same time they are criticizing Iran.”



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