National Breath of Life provides peek into Paiute past for Heidi Barlese |

National Breath of Life provides peek into Paiute past for Heidi Barlese

By Jarrette Werk | Special to First Nation’s Focus
Janine “Heidi” Barlese teamed up with linguists to look at archives while in Washington, D.C., this past spring.
Courtesy: Janine “Heidi” Barlese
Learn more: Visit or to learn more about the Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages.

NIXON, Nev. — Hoping to preserve her culture, Janine “Heidi” Barlese had the opportunity to attend the National Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages event earlier this year.

National Breath of Life is a two-week biennial institute (May 29-June 9 this year) that brings community researchers from around North America to Washington, D.C., to help indigenous people find and utilize their linguistic archival sources from archives located in the D.C. area.

“I had the opportunity to see things I had only seen in books,” Barlese, who works as Cultural Coordinator for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, said in an interview this summer with First Nation’s Focus. “Now, I am passing those stories, and my knowledge of our Paiute language, history, and songs I learned to the children of my community.”

Barlese recently started working for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, as the Cultural Coordinator, so this opportunity fit into her scope of work perfectly.

Through National Breath of Life, she was able to broaden her knowledge of language and linguistics, and also had the opportunity to look at old documents, language lists, stories, pictures and artifacts from the past.

“I even got to hear my grandpa, Frank John, sing for the first time,” she said.

Since the 1950s, Native American music has been a part of ethnomusicological research, which is the study of music from the cultural and social aspects.

Barlese was able to hear her grandfather’s voice through the five different songs within the archival sources in Washington, D.C.

Barlese has had a passion for the culture, language and oral history of her people ever since her grandmother began telling her stories of the animals as a little girl growing up on the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation in Nixon, Nevada.

“This is my opportunity to come back home, to my own community, and help teach the language, culture and songs,” said Barlese. “I really enjoy my job, and I can’t believe that the traditional knowledge, that I grew up with, brought me back home to teach to the future generations.”

Jarrette Werk (Aaniiih) is a journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno, who worked this summer for the Sierra Nevada Media Group as an intern, writing and taking photos for First Nation’s Focus.