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The Nevada Movement: A Model of Trans-Indigenous Antinuclear Solidarity

  • Author(s): Rozsa, George Gregory
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license
Abstract

Corbin Harney, Western Shoshone elder and spiritual leader, rises in prayer. He lights a ceremonial pipe and upon inhaling offers it to Olzhas Suleimenov, Kazakh national poet and leader of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement, who smokes it in turn. After completing the Western Shoshone Pipe Ceremony, the two reach down into the earth, each pulling up a stone, which they then proceed—in accordance with Kazakh custom—to throw at the face of evil—in this case, the face of nuclear fallout. This face is everywhere at the Nevada Test Site, and yet, nowhere to be seen. Guidelines for direct action campaigns at the test site caution would-be activists to be afraid of it—to be afraid of the dust. Contaminated from decades of nuclear weapons testing, this dust kills—just one more thing the Western Shoshone share with the Kazakhs, who, nearly a year-and-a-half earlier and halfway across the globe, gathered at Semipalatinsk, the Soviet counterpart to the Nevada Test Site, to hurl their own stones at the face of this very same evil. In 1989, inspired by Western Shoshone attempts to end nuclear weapons testing on their ancestral homeland, the Kazakhs rose up to demand an immediate cessation of Soviet testing at Semipalatinsk. They not only named their nascent movement Nevada, but they also took as their logo a Kazakh nomad sharing a pipe with a Western Shoshone. Over the next two years, Western Shoshone and Nevada activists engaged in cultural and political exchanges that sent delegates to protest in each other’s respective homeland. Soviet officials have repeatedly credited the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement in their decision to halt their nuclear weapons testing program. By August 1991 Semipalatinsk closed. And without a credible Soviet threat the United States halted its own nuclear weapons testing program the following year. This essay documents the origins of this historic trans-Indigenous activism, as well as the joint strategies, tactics, and discourses employed by both movements in their bid to end nuclear weapons testing in their respective homelands.

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