Western Shoshone students explore higher education with Barrick
ELKO, Nev. — Young Western Shoshone tribal members can earn an education and get a job while honoring the customs of their ancestors.
That was the message behind Barrick Gold Corp.’s third annual Tribal Summer Youth Career/Cultural Days at the South Fork Indian Reservation held July 20-21 and the Barrick-sponsored Shoshone Community Language Initiative with a graduation ceremony Aug. 4 at Great Basin College.
“Barrick sees this as a wonderful event, and a wonderful program, and we’re happy to partner with our college, our hometown college; happy to partner with the Shoshone communities in all the areas we work,” said Barrick U.S.A. Executive Director Nigel Bain at the language program graduation. “But [we’re] most proud of our ability to see the new generation of Shoshone people learn about their heritage, learn about their history … the language of the Shoshone, not to let that pass by, not to allow that history and culture to disappear.”
Because all Barrick mining properties are on traditional Western Shoshone lands, the mining company partnered with the people to promote higher education among indigenous youths for the benefit and sustainability of the tribes. Through the collaborative agreement signed in 2008, Barrick offers college courses in native language, college preparation and advising, scholarships, internships, and additional programs for economic and community development.
“It’s amazing that this year alone, we had 47 tribal members graduate from college” with associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees, said Brian Mason, manager of Native American affairs for Barrick and member of the Shoshone-Paiute tribes of Duck Valley, from Owyhee.
That’s a 50 percent increase in the number of graduates over last year, and since the program came to fruition in 2012, Barrick has hired 125 tribal members. Through 2016, Barrick has awarded 1,075 scholarships totaling more than $2.14 million. Twelve students, including Mason’s granddaughter, Princess Mason, graduated from the inaugural Shoshone Community Language Initiative, earning dual credit for foreign language.
“It’s been really aggressive,” Mason said. “It’s been really successful.”
Shoshone Community Language Initiative
During the language program graduation ceremony, the students introduced themselves in Shoshone then English and described the components of their five-week-long program. Each day included classes and activities through which the students could practice their language and learn about aspects of their culture from their elders.
“Our group was very grateful to learn from these elders because some of these topics we might not have learned from our families,” said graduate Adam Nalley.
Weekends allowed time for the students, all of Shoshone heritage but hailing from as far away as the East Coast, to go on field trips to places of historical significance, such as the Tosawihi Quarries and Hercules Gap. Ruby Valley made a big impression on Breeyanna Hooper, who said the trips opened her eyes to what her people have been through.
“I think it’s important that we went out to these sites as well as learning the language because we learn the culture on these trips,” she said. “But without the language, there’s no culture, and without the culture, there’s no language.”
Davis Gonzales, vice chairman of the Te-Moak and Elko Band tribal councils, emphasized the importance of “listening to the old folks,” he said. “That is where I got my language. That’s what’s really important about this opportunity for the graduates right now. … You have a Shoshone foundation. It’s for you now to build on this one foundation, to continue our legacy and the Shoshone language.”
He also extended his gratitude to Barrick. “On behalf of the Elko Band Council and Tribal Council,” he said, “I want to thank Barrick for all the work that they’ve done for us over all the years they’ve sponsored the Shoshone class.”
Shanina Hicks, a Western Shoshone member from Duck Valley, described her success with Barrick support during the Tribal Summer Youth Career/Cultural Days. As a scholarship recipient, Hicks attends Boise State University where she has finished her bachelor’s degree in social sciences and is working on her master’s degree in public administration. This summer, Barrick is sponsoring her as an employee to work in her field of study for her tribe.
“In general, they are helping me develop skills to use in my career,” she said, explaining that the internship provides real-world experience and leadership skills.
Hicks was one of about 20 interns, some of whom talked about college and careers at the event. She addressed a group of about 180 teens and preteens from the eight Western Shoshone tribes gathered in the shade of a tribal arbor draped with willows.
The youths in attendance can follow a similar career and education path. Through the program, they are already employed through Barrick to work for their tribes. Summer jobs include maintenance or working for environmental or health services, among other pursuits. The work puts money in their pockets while contributing to community development. The two-day event also featured a college fair with representatives from colleges in states including Nevada, Idaho and Utah.
Their interest shows initiative praised by guest presenter Andrew Iron Shell, community engagement coordinator for the Thunder Mountain Community Development Corp. in South Dakota.
“I’m really awed by all of you here because you had to fill out an application [to be here],” he said. “That’s what we need from our indigenous youth … to carry that value of, ‘We’re still here.’ ”
In his presentation, Iron Shell explained about how the nonprofit, grass roots organization on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation works to solve poverty, eliminate hunger and instill hope.
“We want to create change,” he said.
Iron Shell encouraged the Western Shoshone students to tap into their survival instincts and use the resources available to them, including the Barrick programs, to improve their quality of life. He also reminded them to never forget history.
“We used to think being isolated was a curse,” he said. “No, it is a gift.”
The gift is that it helped preserved Native American culture, he explained. The Barrick program promotes the continuation of Western Shoshone traditions, and invited several teachers to the July event to pass on ancestral knowledge.
Guest speakers Darlene Hooper Dewey and Melanie Smokey from Yomba demonstrated the historic uses for native plants and reminded the youngsters of their beliefs.
“You’re learning a lot,” Dewey said, “and I thank Barrick for providing our language teachers and you kids for learning.”
The mother-daughter duo described how sage is considered a physical and spiritual disinfectant; how buck berry is high in antioxidants; and pine nuts are a rich food that helped keep the people alive and strong during the harsh Great Basin winters.
Smokey passed around samples of the plants and demonstrated traditional tools, including hand-woven baskets and grinding stones, while Dewey pronounced their names in her native tongue. Students nibbled the red buck berries from a branch, felt pine pitch between their fingers and tested an elderberry branch as a clapper stick, with a sharp thwack against a hand or thigh.
“Our food is our medicine. I just want you to know that we came after the plants,” Smokey said. “They were born already knowing what their job is.” “They listen to Creator. They know.”
Although the plants intrinsically know their purpose, she said, people do not always know, and the discovery process takes exploration. That’s why events such as the Barrick Tribal Summer Youth Career/Cultural Days can be helpful.
Charles Wadda-Martinez, visiting from the Shoshone tribe in Rigby, Idaho, said he had been considering joining the military after high school graduation but that the college fair the day before got him thinking about going to college in Idaho near his family.
He also reflected on the importance of cultural education, saying that it is “important because if we don’t learn the ways our people, they might die out.”
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.