Tribal leaders reflect on historic Nevada Legislative session for Native affairs |

Tribal leaders reflect on historic Nevada Legislative session for Native affairs

Special to First Nation's Focus
Beneath a statue of revered Native American educator Sarah Winnemucca, regional tribal leaders, elders and military veterans attended the June 8 bill-signing ceremony at the Capitol building in Carson City. Pictured are: Chairman Arlan D. Melendez (Reno-Sparks Indian Colony), Chairman Serrell Smokey (Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California), Donna Brown (Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe), Chairman Tildon Smart (Ft. McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe), Ralph Burns (Stewart Indian School Alum), Josey Becerra (Stewart Indian School Alum), Gloria McDonald (Stewart Indian School Alum), Vonnie Curtis (Ft. McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe), Chairwoman Laurie A. Thom (Yerington Paiute Tribe), Elisa Dave (Ft. McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe), Marla McDade Williams (South Fork Band & Strategies 360), Jennie Burns (Reno-Sparks Indian Colony), Chairwoman Amber Torres (Walker River Paiute Nations) and Vice Chairman Allan Mandell (Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe).
Photo: Stacey Montooth

Seventeen Native leaders, elders and military veterans from throughout the Great Basin recently witnessed a Nevada bill become a law that will strengthen Tribal sovereignty and create policies that promote collaboration and positive government-to-government relations between state agencies and Tribes.

Signed on June 8 by Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, Assembly Bill 264 — the Collaboration Act — is patterned after a New Mexico consultation bill that Native Americans enjoy with state officials and agencies.

At least one representative from the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, the Yerington Paiute Tribe, the Walker River Paiute Nation, the South Fork Band, the Ft. McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, and the Duck Valley Shoshone-Paiute Tribe, as well as Stewart Indian School alumni and staff, plus Nevada lawmakers, gathered in the governor’s office for the June 8 bill-signing ceremony.

“We look forward to building a partnership with the state, and collaborating on ideas that will help sustain our Tribes and pave the way for the next seven generations,” said Amber Torres, Chairwoman of the Walker River Paiute Nation. “I cannot wait to see what we achieve with Governor Steve Sisolak’s administration.” 

Nevada Assemblywoman Sarah Peters, D-Reno, and Sen. Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas, sponsored AB264.

“AB264 creates transparency and accountability, and it enables the Nevada Indian Commission to take steps to ensure that there is appropriate training and mechanisms for maintaining these relationships,” Peters said during hearings this spring on the bill.

Laurie Thom, Chairwoman of the Yerington Paiute Tribe, expanded on the meaning of the new law.

“To pass unanimously out of every committee, in both the Senate and Assembly, and with 17 sponsors, states loud and clear that the emerging partnerships between the State and Tribes are getting stronger,” Thom said at the June 8 ceremony. “As generations reflect, they will look to this 80th legislative session as a turning point at which Tribes took back their power.”

From left, Chairman Arlan D. Melendez (Reno-Sparks Indian Colony), Chairman Serrell Smokey (Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California), Vice Chairman Allan Mandell (Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe), Chairwoman Amber Torres (Walker River Paiute Nations) and Chairwoman Laurie A. Thom (Yerington Paiute Tribe).
Photo: Stacey Montooth

AB264 was just one of eight Tribal-related bills that have either been signed into law this session, or were adopted by the Legislature and await Sisolak’s approval, highlighting one of the most successful legislative sessions in the history of Nevada in terms of Native American affairs.

“I can’t remember a session of the Nevada Legislature that has been so supportive of Tribal interests,” said RSIC Chairman Arlan D. Melendez, who has held office for nearly 27 years. “During this 80th session, we have had senators and assemblymen and women of their own volition incorporate language into various measures to include Tribal representation.

“All these important bills would not have made it to Governor Sisolak’s desk without the strong vision and leadership of our Tribal and elected state leaders,” Melendez said.

Other new laws that will resonate through Indian Country in the Great Basin include:

AB44, which officially creates the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum; AB393, which creates protection for Tribes during a Federal Government shutdown; SB182, which confers powers of a peace officer for some law enforcement relating to Tribes; AB137, which revises provisions for state and county election activities on Tribal Lands, so that once established, Tribes do not have to re-request reservation polling stations; AB71, which allows the state attorney general to develop agreements with Tribes for grants and loan disaster relief; SB67, which establishes the Nevada Tribal Emergency Coordinating Council; AB152, which protects cultural properties and increases penalties for destroying cultural resources; and SB366, which establishes provisions relating to dental therapy across Indian Country.

“The need for more sustainable access to dental care in Tribal Nevada is great, and the potential cost saving realized by utilizing a dental therapist services will be an important component in providing better dental services to our community,” said Alan Mandell, Vice Chairman of the Pyramid Lake  Paiute Tribe. “Our leadership is confident that the new legislation will empower Tribes to tackle our own oral health challenges, plus put our own people to work in areas that habitually have been difficult to recruit and retain quality, culturally competent staff.”

Josey Becerra, an alumna of the Stewart Indian School, looks on during the June 8 ceremony in Carson City.
Photo: Stacey Montooth

The state of Nevada includes 20 federally recognized Tribes composed of 27 tribal communities. Nevada’s Indian Territory is home to four major Tribes: Northern Paiute, Southern Paiute, Shoshone and Washoe.

Early in his campaign to become the Silver State’s first Democrat governor in two decades, Sisolak committed to respect Tribes’ sovereignty and to empower Tribes by respecting Tribal-Federal communication and decision-making without intervention, yet with the collaboration and support of state government when that is beneficial to the Tribes’ objectives.

“Many of these bills were crafted to include the needs and values of our communities,” Chairman Melendez said. “Notably, these provisions were offered by the legislators of their own accord.” 

Assemblywoman Peters also recognized that changing dynamic as she authored an opinion piece published in the Reno-Gazette Journal.

“One of the things we have seen over the last five or so years is a resurgence of power from our Tribal governments, and it is appropriate,” Peters wrote. “It is necessary that Tribes engage and take their power back in a way that ensures their members and their culture exists in perpetuity.”

This article was provided to First Nation’s Focus by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. For more information, contact RSIC Community Information Officer Stacey Montooth at or 775-842-2902.