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Washoe tribal elder’s legacy of faith and tradition lives

by Sheila Gardner
Nevada Appeal News Service
File PhotoMarie Kizer
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When people talk about Marie Kizer, time seems to stand still.

From her childhood at Lake Tahoe to her last days at the family home in Dresslerville, Kizer’s legacy is one of family, faith and tribal tradition.

The Washoe Tribe elder died May 1 at age 81. At a recent gathering of four of her 13 children and a grandson, the conversation turned to the old ways that Kizer instilled in her family.

“What I will miss abut her is her knowledge of Washoe tradition and cultures,” said daughter Lenora Kizer, 56.

“When I talked to her, I wanted to know more about that,” she said.

For Minerva Kizer, 49, it’s her mother’s skills as a traditional basket weaver.

Marie Kizer was renowned as an artisan. Her baskets are displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and were presented as gifts to international guests of the Washoe Tribe.

“I wish I’d learned more when I was little,” Minerva Kizer said.

Mark Kizer, 50, remembers his mother taking him to Stewart Indian School to watch his older brothers play sports.

“She’d lie to the principal and say I had a doctor’s appointment and get me out of school early,” he said.

With 13 children, life at the Kizer home was noisy.

“Somebody was always crying,” Minerva Kizer said. “But we had a lot of fun times. I remember running all over the place ” with all the boys. I don’t think we ever wore shoes in the summertime.”

With that many siblings, the Kizer children learned responsibility at an early age.

“Every year, she had a baby,” Minerva Kizer said. “Everybody took care of everybody else.”

A love of athletics and competition was instilled at an early age, creating the Kizer dynasty still playing sports today.

One of Marie Kizer’s last outings was a trip to Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School in March to watch her great-granddaughter Kristin Wyatt play.

“Mom was always sitting out in the stands, there watching under her umbrella, or she would find some shade,” Lenora Kizer said.

Marie Kizer was born in Tahoma, Calif., on the southern shore of Lake Tahoe, on Aug. 6, 1926, to Nancy Pitts and Louis Simpson.

“We have our family picnic every year and she would point out where she used to live at the Lake,” Lenora Kizer said. “She moved to Dresslerville when she was a teenager and this is where she stayed.”

Marie Kizer was active with the Dresslerville Senior Center and instrumental in organizing and preparing food for the annual cultural dinner.

She made traditional foods including pinenut soup and acorn biscuits.

She participated every year in the Wai-Pa-Shone festival at Douglas County elementary schools, wearing a traditional dress and head scarf.

“She was not so much into politics. She was more into community activities. She always supported her kids in the schools. She was very involved in the Baptist church out here, too,” Lenora Kizer said.

In 1997, she was invited to the Lake Tahoe summit attended by President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

The legacy to her children and the Washoe Tribe is her basketweaving.

“She made baskets for all her children and grandchildren and a lot of beaded bowls with lids,” said Millie Kizer, 52. “Other people asked her for baskets, too.”

Lenora Kizer recalled a family trip to Ely for a baseball tournament, with a stop at the visitor’s center at Lehman Caves.

“There was a little gift shop and Mom recognized one of her baskets on the wall,” Lenora Kizer said. “She said, ‘I just know my own baskets.'”

Marie Kizer’s heart was at home.

“She woke up early and cooked every day of her life,” Minerva Kizer said. “She always cooked a little extra just in case one of her kids came by. Then, she’d get mad if we didn’t.”

All the children have their favorite foods, but biscuits and banana cream pie top the list.

“Holidays and birthday dinners were the best times,” Minerva Kizer said. “All the boys got banana cream pies for Christmas.”

What about the girls?

“She probably thought we should be making our own,” Millie Kizer said.

Kizer’s funeral was held May 5, four days after she died. There hadn’t been time for a published obituary, but news of her death was passed around in the traditional way ” word of mouth.

More than 300 people crowded into the Dresslerville Gym to remember the beloved tribal elder.

“It was just awesome,” Minerva Kizer said.

Former Tribal Chairman A. Brian Wallace eulogized Kizer and paid tribute to her accomplishments.

“She served as a role model for all of us,” Lenora Kizer said. “She reminded us we needed to be family-oriented, make sure there was enough food, and live by true values.”

Plans are in the works to create a memorial to Kizer at the Dresslerville senior center.

“She spent a lot of time at the senior center. Her friends were there, they played cards together and shared potlucks,” Lenora Kizer said.