Native leaders convene for Nevada Tribes Legislative Day
February 13, 2019
CARSON CITY, Nev. — A call to unity while celebrating tribal differences was the theme of this year's Nevada Tribes Legislative Day at the Nevada State Capitol.
Some tribal leaders traveled far — including the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, Moapa Band of Paiutes, Yerington Paiute Tribe and Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, among others — for the Feb. 12 event in Carson City to witness the activities and bring awareness to local or statewide issues at stake in the current session at the Nevada Legislature.
Sherry Rupert, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission, overseeing the festivities, said it's important for tribal members to take part in the biennial event, which she helped establish during the 2013 session to acknowledge Native Americans' contributions to Nevada.
"We're not only tribal members, but we are citizens of Nevada, so we should be aware of what's happening here," Rupert said.
The welcome in the morning included an invocation, posting of the colors and an honor song from various tribal members.
Rupert introduced Washoe Tribe chairman Serrell Smokey, who recently was elected to the seat. He spoke of a vision of occupying more than Room 3100 on the building's third floor — but sitting in the auditorium downstairs full of Native members and expanding on greater plans for tribal harmony.
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"We've been going astray," Smokey said. "We're trying to do the best we can for our own people. Us as tribal leaders, that's what we do, that's our No. 1 focus, but we're all in this together. A lot of things that have happened affect us all of us in the same exact way."
Smokey said he and other leaders recently met with Gov. Steve Sisolak to discuss the impact of the federal government shutdown on Native Americans. If everyone worked collectively, he noted, more powerful results could be achieved.
"…Everyone's bumping shoulders (in Washington, D.C.) trying to get their way in the door to talk, to get their way for their people," Smokey said. "If we did that together, there'd be no stopping us. … We're different tribes, we have different people, we have different languages — but we're all the same."
The event also provided an opportunity for state legislators to interact with tribal committees, groups, schools and individuals during the session.
Elders Aletha Tom of the Moapa Band of Paiutes and Dinah Pete of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California led the invocations for the Feb. 12 Senate and Assembly floor sessions.
Pete's granddaughter, Adrianne Jim, 10, a student of CC Meneley Elementary School who was crowned Little Miss Washoe at the Dresslerville Washoe Colony Center in Gardnerville in 2017, accompanied her during the prayer.
During the Assembly session, various members introduced students from the Pyramid Lake Junior/Senior High School, including senior Gabriel Frazier, who sat with Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen, R-Sparks. Hansen mentioned Frazier's interest in the automotive trade when he graduates.
"We're always looking for good, honest mechanics, and he enjoys hunting in his spare time with his grandfather," Hansen shared.
After a lunch in the afternoon, Rupert introduced several other members who spoke about various issues impacting the Native American community, including Yerington Paiute Tribe chairwoman Laurie Thom. She's working on legislation with Assemblywoman Sarah Peters and Assemblyman Edgar Flores to put together two key bills affecting tribes, including the Nevada Tribal Consultation Act and a bill that would have all 27 of Nevada's tribal flags displayed in the Legislative Building.
The Nevada Tribal Consultation Act would require state agencies to consult and liaise with tribes in making state and land decisions. Thom said the act is meant to avoid situations such as what happened with the Anaconda Mine near Yerington in February 2018, when Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt signed a deferral agreement to clean up the site and the Paiute had only learned about the visit only days before.
For Thom, being a part of the Legislature's activities was very memorable from a personal standpoint. She, too, had been introduced during the Assembly session by Peters on the floor. Thom's mother has worked for the Assembly as a state historian.
"It was special that Sarah Peters introduced me," She said. "She's been our consultant … and she told everyone that being a female leader, a woman leader gave her that incentive to go forward and become an Assemblywoman, and I was real proud of that and for our tribal leaders.
"Today, I loved seeing all the tribal leaders here. This is our day and this is our house."
Later in the day, participants were offered a chance to take a guided tour of the Stewart Indian School. Legislation also is being proposed this session to ensure fees and revenues coming from temporary use of the lands and buildings from the school will be returned to its preservation instead of the state's general fund, Rupert said, and the tribes also want to keep an eye on other taxation and educational issues as they arise this session.
Rupert said she was pleased by the outcome, calling it a "celebratory day."
"When our legislators see us here at the table testifying in their hearings one after another and show them how important that water and land are to us, it's another important part of why this day needs to exist," she said.
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