Nevada Native American tribes’ history, issues explored at Carson City forum

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A Sierra Nevada Forum panel on Tuesday gave a glimpse into the history and issues affecting Nevada’s Native American tribes.

“The federal government recognizes our sovereignty. We are 27 nations, each with our own laws, constitution, courts,” said Stacey Montooth, executive director, Nevada Indian Commission, and a member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe.

The panel consisted of Montooth; Brian Wadsworth, a commissioner on the state commission and a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe; Marla McDade Williams, a lobbyist and past commissioner and a member of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone; and Helen Fillmore, a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno who works on the Native Waters on Arid Lands project and is a member of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.

Wadsworth spoke about the Stewart Indian School and the history of boarding schools, quoting Brig. Gen. Richard Pratt who founded the Carlisle Indian Industrial School and said such schools were to “kill the Indian, save the man.”

Wadsworth said children were often kidnapped, taken away from anything familiar, and forced to board.

“It was assimilation, that’s what ‘kill the Indian, save the man’ meant,” said Wadsworth. “There was a lot of sexual, physical, and mental abuse to assimilate them into quote unquote civilized society.”

Wadsworth, whose father and aunt attended the school, said the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum will hopefully open by the end of year. An advisory committee has been working with alumni.

“We want to make sure we’re telling the most accurate story,” he said.

Williams outlined recent state legislation affecting the state’s tribes.

“There was key legislation in 2019, it was a banner year for the tribes,” said Williams.

Among that legislation was Assembly Bill 137, which allows tribes to establish polling places once and not have to re-establish for subsequent elections, and AB 264, which institutes a process for state agencies to consult with the tribes.

“The Walker River State Park was established without talking to the tribe in Yerington,” said Williams. “We hope to head off those kinds of actions. We want the agencies to think about how the tribes will be affected.”

Fillmore discussed work at Lake Tahoe to restore culturally important plants and showed photos of women from the Washoe tribe working on the project.

“Plant knowledge is mostly held by women. Information was handed down for generations,” said Fillmore.

She said work is also being done on environmental adaptation efforts.

“Indigenous people are most vulnerable to climate change,” she said.

The Sierra Nevada Forums are free events held at the Brewery Arts Center’s Performance Hall.


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