Voting rights advocate elected Pyramid Lake tribe’s 2nd chairwoman
RENO — The new chairwoman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe hopes to continue her long commitment to increasing tribal members’ involvement in elections while addressing the suffering COVID-19 has brought to her people.
Despite the challenges ahead, Janet Davis says she was excited to be elected to the post last weekend partly because the of the rare opportunity it offers.
“I will be only the second chairwoman elected to the position in all of history in our tribe,” she told the Reno Gazette Journal.
Janet Davis, 60, said she’s seen the devastation that the novel coronavirus has wreaked upon her people and in other tribal communities. That includes a few of her own family members, some of whom succumbed to the illness.
“We have suffered from the pandemic, and we haven’t been able to gather as one,” Davis said. “Our funerals traditionally, the whole community comes out and feed, and we go through the whole process of burying our people.
“But we haven’t been able to celebrate those lives or pay our last respects to them like we normally would,” she said.
The reservation is 35 miles northeast of Reno and includes communities in Nixon, Wadsworth and Sutcliffe.
There have been a total of 171 COVID-19 cases on the reservation, 127 recoveries and four deaths, said the Pyramid Lake Tribal Health Clinic. As of Dec. 29, 40 individuals remained quarantined at home.
Davis, a former elementary school teacher for the Washoe County School District, beat former Chairman Vinton Hawley, who was previously elected in 2016, in the general election by 14 votes. She previously served on the Pyramid Lake High School Board and was formerly on the committee for the Indian Health Services, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“I just want to be involved with our community and help our people do better,” she said. “That’s my passion and always will be my passion. That’s what inspired me to run for the position.”
Davis is also a well-known voting rights advocate who helped establish a polling site on the reservation in a federal court battle during the 2016 presidential election. She said community leaders created a plan to address voting concerns in the midst of the pandemic. Residents could drive by the voting poll, honk their horn and receive a ballot.
“It was like a drive-in,” she said. “There were 482 registered voters and 339 of them voted.”
Still, she said many tribal members who live off the reservation did not have an opportunity to vote.
“I think maybe the process needs to change so more people feel like they’re included,” Davis said.