Sonik resistance at the Nevada Test Site
Underground dance parties often take place in unusual locations – underneath highway overpasses, inside boxcars, under bridges – anywhere we can get away with it. However, until now, none had been held at the gates of the Nevada Test Site (NTS) where the United State tests its nuclear weapons of mass destruction. On October 11, DJs and musicians from S.P.A.Z., 5lowershop, R.A.T.S.T.A.R., Havoc, Katabatik, and Subversive Soundz gathered for Unchained Reaction!, an elektronik, anti-nuclear resist.dance party at the Nevada Test Site to resist nuclear weapons testing and nuclear dumping on native lands. The dance party was part of the Action for Nuclear Abolition, a larger gathering which included the Family Spirit Walk, an 800 mile walk from Los Alamos (the birth place of the atom bomb) to the NTS; an anti-nuclear weapons conference in Las Vegas; and a six day gathering at the Test Site that included trainings, ceremonies, and direct actions.
The 500 people who went to the Nevada Test Site for the Action for Nuclear Abolition (ANA) were there to oppose testing of nuclear weapons and the dumping of high-level nuclear waste, as is proposed at nearby Yucca Mountain. Indeed the proposed shipping and dumping of 77,000 tons of highly radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, a sacred site for the Western Shoshone, instigated Unchained Reaction!
Many who participated in the ANA view these anti-nuclear protests as part of the struggle for the rights of indigenous people in the United States. Author/activist Ward Churchill has challenged “the Left” to work with indigenous peoples in the United States to resolve the Native American land question. The colonization of indigenous peoples must be addressed in order avoid the duplication of the colonialist/settler mentality in social relations between Native Americans and white radicals. This land question, which can be understood in terms of a colonial relationship between a subjugated nation and a colonial power, is at the heart of the struggle over reclaiming the Nevada Test Site as part of Newe Sogobia, the traditional land of the Western Shoshone.
The conflict over land began with the discovery of gold in California in 1849, which prompted hundreds of thousands of Americans to head for the west coast. In 1849 alone, over 60,000 Americans traveled through Newe Sogobia, depleting food sources and instigating conflicts with the Shoshone. The Shoshones retaliated against the invaders by raiding the wagon trains to take weapons and horses.
In order to facilitate the appropriation of natural resources by settler society the United States government negotiated the Treaty of Ruby Valley, signed on October 1, 1863 which affirmed the Newe’s title to their ancestral land, Newe Sogobia (‘the peoples’ earth mother’), which extends from the Snake River in Idaho, across most of Nevada, and into Southern California. This title legally remains in place; however, the combination of a phenomenon called “gradual encroachment” and presidential orders have pushed the Shoshone off their land. The establishment of the Nevada Test Site provides an excellent example of this process.
President Franklin Roosevelt originally set aside part of Newe Sogobia as an artillery and gunnery range through executive order 8578 in 1940. Of course, nobody bothered to ask the Newe (Western Shoshone) people, within whose treaty-guaranteed territory the entire facility was established, whether they felt this was an acceptable use of their land, or whether they were even willing to have it designated as part of the U.S. “public domain” for any purpose.
Instead, in 1952, having designated 435,000 acres in the Yucca Flats area of Nellis as a “Nevada Test Site” – another 318,000 acres were added in 1961, bringing the total to 735,000 – the Atomic Energy Commission and its military partners undertook what by now add up to nearly a thousand atmospheric and underground nuclear test detonations. In 1973 the United States government offered the Western Shoshone $26 million for the land that includes Yucca Mountain and the NTS. The Western Shoshone national council has refused this payment, and the money has sat in an Interior Department trust account since.
The Western Shoshone have fought against this encroachment in many ways, including lawsuits in U.S. courts, by sending a delegation to Geneva, Switzerland, to speak with members of the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and, when necessary, through armed resistance. The annual Action for Nuclear Abolition is another example of Shoshone resistance.
But the question remains: was it a great party? Well it was great for us. Everybody turned in great sets of inspiring music, even if much of the audience had never heard electronic music before, let alone breakcore. Katherine Blossom, a native elder said of us, “I don’t pray like anybody else I know, it is good to see that these people pray in their own way as well.” Music is our alchemy, and after we heard the extremely banal new age earthdance prayer for peace on Saturday we knew for certain that we can only be a part of prayer for peace that we make on our own terms. Our prayers shake the earth with bass.
We heard many stories and attended a sunrise ceremony as part of the direct action trespass on the NTS. Listening to Shoshone cultural stories, we were inspired to think of the stories that guide our lives and history that we share within our subculture. They prayed for the simple things every sunrise: the air, water, earth, fire, and all the animals that once walked the land, both thanking and honoring their energies in our lives. This is one of the things that they wanted us to take from them, a consciousness about the life energies that our dominator culture takes for granted.
The two nights of music were not without problems, some of which arose well before it ever happened. Getting out 10,000 flyers and trying to reach out beyond our normal spheres of influence was really hard and made us wonder at times if it was worth it. But maybe if the ideas touched some people, or challenged people to do some self education about the issues on the flyer (whether they came out or not), then that is something that you cannot place a value on. Almost every time we were out flyering, someone thanked us for doing this and seemed to be deeply touched by our intentions. Although not many people came to attend the dance party itself (it was in the Navada desert, after all), the soundsystems brought between 75 and 100 people to the event, which was close to twenty percent of the total number at the peace camp.
In terms of conflict with our hosts and with other Peace Camp protestors we happily report that it was minimal. After the Friday night concert, the native elders (who we were afraid we were keeping awake) sent someone down to tell us that they loved what we were doing and to turn it up, to let the NTS know that we are there and that we are not going away. There is an open invitation for us to return next year, and even discussion about an occupation party on Yucca Mountain. Start building bassbins now!