Reno-Sparks Indian Colony celebrates return of ancestral land
This story was first published in the May 2017 edition of First Nation’s Focus.
RENO, Nev. — For what has been considered the greatest development of today’s generation, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony (RSIC) hosted elected officials and tribal leaders for an Earth Day luncheon followed by a community dinner to celebrate the Nevada Native Nations Land Act.
“This is a truly historic time for our tribes and the return of our ancestral lands which will benefit our people for years to come,” said RSIC Chairman Arlan D. Melendez before the event. “All the tribes greatly appreciate the hard work on the part of the Nevada Congressional delegation in getting this bill to final passage.”
Under the leadership of Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei and Nevada Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller last fall, Congress approved the transfer of 71,000 acres of federal land to six Great Basin Indian Tribes.
The coalition of Nevada tribes has some of the smallest land bases in Indian country. This historic legislation expands their reservation land base which will be used for housing, economic development and cultural activities.
“Currently, the downtown Reno-Sparks Indian Colony is completely landlocked,” Chairman Melendez said. “We cannot build one more house on our original 28 acres.”
However, Chairman Melendez believes housing is just one of many benefits the transfer of land provides. Since passage of the federal law, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony controls 13,434 conjoining acreage to its Hungry Valley land base.
“Native people are one with the land and it raises our spirit,” Chairman Melendez said. “We appreciate that our Congressional leaders — Congressman Mark Amodei, Senator Dean Heller, Senator Harry Reid — really understand that.”
In addition, the land holds cultural significance with several landscape features which are used for traditional religious practices and a source of medicinal plants, plus many plants and roots which have sustained Great Basin Natives for centuries. Chairman Melendez said that securing the additional acreage in Hungry Valley allows his tribe — Paiute, Shoshone and Washoe people, to teach their children their spiritual heritage in an appropriate setting.
“We want to teach our children our values by using the land like it is supposed to be used,” Chairman Melendez said. Last summer, Senator Reid provided a statement at the Senate Committee hearings. In his remarks he said that land is lifeblood to Native Americans and this bill provides space for housing, economic development, traditional uses and cultural protection. Senator Heller, who introduced the companion bill heard by the Senate, outlined his commitment to the tribes.
“I’m proud this important bipartisan legislation empowering Nevada’s tribal leaders to make important decisions affecting their communities,” Senator Heller said.
Currently, the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service administers nearly 48 million acres of public lands in Nevada. The acreage the six tribes are asking to be transferred is just 0.17 percent of the over 80 percent of the land in Nevada which is owned by the federal government. The five other tribes impacted by this legislation are the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe, the Shoshone Paiute Tribes of Duck Valley, the Summit Lake Paiutes, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, and the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe.
Outline of Nevada Native Nations Land Act
Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe: Conveys 19,094 acres of BLM land to be held in trust for the tribe.
Duck Valley Shoshone Paiute Tribes: Conveys 82 acres of Forest Service land to be held in trust for the tribe.
Summit Lake Paiute Tribe: Conveys 941 acres of BLM land to be held in trust for the tribe.
Reno-Sparks Indian Colony: Conveys 13,434 acres of BLM land to be held in trust for the tribe.
Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe: Conveys 6,357 acres of BLM land to be held in trust for the tribe.
Duckwater Shoshone Tribe: Conveys 31,229 acres of BLM land to be held in trust for the tribe.
I am over the moon with how strong our school-community relationship is, how easy it was to grow, and surprised by the willingness of my community, students and parents alike, to move in this direction too.