| FirstNationsFocus.com

Opinion: America’s obsession with killing Indians hasn’t died

When I was a toddler, I watched my mother fixate on her typewriter as she hammered out her first work of nonfiction, The Lasting of the Mohegans, a book documenting the stories and survival of our people. At the time, I didn’t know why we were at war with the word “last” — but even then, I understood that changing the word meant our survival.

I knew then as I know now that stories are medicine, that they have the power to heal just as they have the power to harm. Any time we tell a story, we must think carefully about what it is doing for the world.

According to Variety, a new version of The Last of the Mohicans is coming to television — this time as a series from Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective, “Bond 25”) and Nicole Kassell (Watchmen). The source material, written in 1826 by James Fenimore Cooper and now considered an “American classic,” presents a fictionalized version of the French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War) and is set in New York. Its most recent iteration arrived in 1992 in the form of a feature film starring Daniel Day-Lewis and a then relatively unknown Native actor, Wes Studi. While the novel was written at a time when settlers evangelically promoted the myth that Indigenous people were disappearing, the fantasy has endured, and Fenimore’s fiction has often been taken as fact.

I became a theater director because I know that storytellers are world builders, and I was tired of people imagining a world in which I and other citizens of the Mohegan Tribe do not exist. When I directed The Magic Flute in 2015 in Cooperstown, New York, (named, ironically, for James Fenimore Cooper’s father), a journalist decided to caption an image from the production with echoes of Cooper’s fictional world. Instead of writing “directed by Madeline Sayet,” he wrote, “directed by Madeline Sayet, a Mohican princess.” The caption revealed a truth: I was not a Mohegan director in this journalist’s eyes, I was a character from Cooper’s world, a trope from a story penned by a white man centuries before — and he was still writing my story.

So I have to ask: Why tell The Last of the Mohicans again? There have already been nine film versions of the story, and casting decisions can’t redeem it. Producing any version of The Last of the Mohicans perpetuates erasure and reinforces genocide — and those sentiments begin with the title. Then there’s the way the attached talent talks about the story: “I am profoundly excited … to be bringing a new light and perspective to this period in our history,” said Nicole Kassell, while Fukunaga has said, “We have the chance to revive the forgotten ancestors that define American identity today.” Both of their quotes fill me with dread that this new version will continue to promote Cooper’s work as factual history when the reality couldn’t be more different.

The Last of the Mohicans ends with the death of a Mohegan named Uncas. In actuality, the real Uncas was not in upstate New York at the time, and was not from there. Uncas was the chief of the Mohegans in Connecticut, not the Mahicans in New York. But most importantly, Uncas was not the last: He is my ancestor. I exist only because he survived.

Despite what Fukunaga says, my ancestors aren’t forgotten, and their story is far more interesting than that of the fictionalized characters in Cooper’s imaginary tale. Mine is a storyline of resilience, yet in Cooper, Kassell and Fukunaga’s world, I don’t exist — and that erasure begins with the title, never mind the content.

Making yet another Last of the Mohicans isn’t just damaging, it’s lazy and unimaginative. Think of the new “American classics” being written by Native people. In 2019 alone, Tommy Orange’s There, There became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Joy Harjo became Poet Laureate, Larissa Fasthorse won the Pen America Literary Award for Theater, while Lisa Brooks’ Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Phillip’s War won the Bancroft Prize. These are only a few examples of groundbreaking Indigenous writers telling Indigenous stories. These are stories of resilience and survival — stories that could have positive impacts on the world around us and contribute to the visibility, and inspiration, of Native people. Instead, The Last of the Mohicans will continue to tell us that we don’t exist.

The United States government’s policies to erase Indigenous peoples have ultimately failed, but the myths those policies created are still here, as is the desire to retell stories, like Cooper’s, time and again. It’s time for those storytellers to leave those stories behind and accept we exist.

It’s time to tell a different story. A new story. A powerful story. A healing story. Uncas, my ancestor, chief of the Mohegans, wasn’t the last and he never will be. He is the reason I am alive today, and I am exhausted by how little this conversation has moved forward since my mother was my age, writing her rebuttal on her typewriter.

Madeline Sayet (Mohegan) is a Forbes 30 Under 30, NCAID Native American 40 Under 40, TED Fellow, MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow and recipient of The White House Champion of Change Award from President Obama for her work as a director and writer.

Photo gallery: 2019 Numaga Indian Days Powwow

RENO, Nev. — The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony’s 33rd annual Numaga Indian Days Powwow took place Labor Day weekend — Thursday, Aug. 29, through Sunday, Sept. 1, in Hungry Valley.

Thousands of people attended over the course of the three-day event, which featured plenty of festivities and princess contests, as well as multiple grand entries featuring dances in many styles, such as Fancy Feather and Grass for the men and Jingle and Fancy Shawl for the women.

The RSIC holds the powwow each Labor Day Weekend to honor the memory of Chief Numaga, the famous Paiute chief known for peace. Numaga died in 1871 and is buried in the hills near Wadsworth.

This year, First Nation’s Focus Contributor Alejandra Rubio (Yavapai-Apache) attended the grand entry on Friday night, Aug. 30. See some of her images above, as well as some images from Saturday, Aug. 31, from First Nation’s Focus Advertising Leader Bethany Sam.

NV tribal officials hopeful Stewart museum will open by year’s end

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Several regional tribal members participated in a Sierra Nevada Forum panel discussion on Sept. 10 in Carson City to provide a glimpse into the history and issues affecting Nevada’s Native American tribes.

“The federal government recognizes our sovereignty. We are 27 nations, each with our own laws, constitution, courts,” said Stacey Montooth, who began her new role as executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission (NIC) on Sept. 1.

Sierra Nevada Forum events are free and held at the Carson City Brewery Arts Center’s Performance Hall.

The Sept. 10 panel consisted of Montooth (Walker River Paiute Tribe); Brian Wadsworth, a commissioner on the NIC and a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe; Marla McDade Williams, a lobbyist and past commissioner and a member of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone; and Helen Fillmore, a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno who works on the Native Waters on Arid Lands project and is a member of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.

Wadsworth spoke about the Stewart Indian School in Carson City and the history of boarding schools, quoting Brigadier General Richard Pratt — who founded the infamous Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1879 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania — and said such schools were to “kill the Indian, save the man.”

Wadsworth said children were often kidnapped, taken away from anything familiar, and forced to board at schools like Carlisle (which closed in 1918) and Stewart, which operated from 1890 until 1980, closing due to a lack of funding.

“It was assimilation, that’s what ‘kill the Indian, save the man’ meant,” said Wadsworth. “There was a lot of sexual, physical and mental abuse to assimilate them into, quote unquote ‘civilized society.’”

These days, the 240-acre Stewart Indian School campus is owned by the state of Nevada and listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places.

The Nevada Indian Commission was allocated $4.5 million from the state in 2017 to renovate the school’s administration building into a museum and cultural center and the first Stewart Post Office into a welcome center.

Renovation work started in the summer of 2018 and continues heading into the fall.

Wadsworth, whose father and aunt attended the school in Carson City, said the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum will hopefully open by the end of year, adding that an advisory committee has been working with alumni.

“We want to make sure we’re telling the most accurate story,” he said at the Sept. 10 forum.

Williams, meanwhile, outlined recent state legislation affecting the state’s tribes.

“There was key legislation in 2019, it was a banner year for the tribes,” said Williams. 

Among that legislation was Assembly Bill 137, which allows tribes to establish polling places once and not have to re-establish for subsequent elections; and AB 264, which institutes a process for state agencies to consult with the tribes.

“The Walker River State Park was established without talking to the tribe in Yerington,” said Williams. “We hope to head off those kinds of actions. We want the agencies to think about how the tribes will be affected.”

Fillmore took time to discuss work at Lake Tahoe to restore culturally important plants and showed photos of women from the Washoe Tribe working on the project.

“Plant knowledge is mostly held by women. Information was handed down for generations,” said Fillmore. 

She said work is also being done on environmental adaptation efforts. 

“Indigenous people are most vulnerable to climate change,” she said.

Washoe Tribe gets $1.87 million in federal grants for wellness programs

The Washoe Tribe of Nevada & California will be awarded $374,124 annually for the next five years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the agency’s Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country program, officials announced today.

Further, according to a Sept. 11 joint press release from U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe has received a $349,501 Department of Justice grant to fund its Tribal Sexual Assault Services Program.

“It’s crucial that our tribal communities receive the funding they need to create, maintain and expand community-based services, whether they are providing crisis intervention to sexual assault survivors or working to promote health and prevent disease,” the Nevada Democratic senators said in the release. “We’ll continue to fight for federal funding for these critical programs that help protect and strengthen Native American communities across the Silver State.”

The Washoe Tribe of Nevada & California will reportedly use the CDC-backed funding — which comes out to more than $1.87 million across five years — to implement strategies to prevent obesity, prevent and control commercial tobacco use and exposure, and prevent type 2 diabetes and heart disease, stroke, and other chronic conditions.

Meanwhile, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe grant will help reportedly assist the tribe in developing a sexual assault policy and procedure manual, continue to fund counseling and advocacy services, and strengthen community awareness by recruiting, training, and facilitating survivor-led outreach activities.

Analysis: Far-right extremists appropriate Indigenous struggles for violent ends

Just minutes before a massacre at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart on Aug 3 left 22 people dead, a hate-filled anti-immigrant manifesto appeared online.

In it, the author, whom authorities believe to be the alleged shooter, Patrick Wood Crusius, claims to be defending his country from white American “replacement” and an “invasion” at the U.S. border as well as from environmental destruction and corporate power.

“Some people will think this statement is hypocritical because of the nearly complete ethnic and cultural destruction brought to the Native Americans by our European ancestors, but this just reinforces my point,” reads the manifesto. “The natives didn’t take the invasion of Europeans seriously, and now what’s left is just a shadow of what was.”

For decades now, warped ideas about Indigenous struggles have buoyed conservative rhetoric and white nationalist fantasies and been used to justify racist violence.

And while the far and extreme right share a hollow, disingenuous affinity with Indigenous people, their appropriation of Indigenous victimhood and rights language is providing long-burning fuel for everything from right-wing propaganda on Fox News to extremist manifestos and movements worldwide.

In 2011, for instance, a far-right terrorist in Norway killed eight people in a bombing and another 69 at a youth camp. In his 1,500-page manifesto, the killer argued that the rhetoric of white nationalism was ultimately doomed to fail due to its connections to Hitler.

Instead of using language and ideas associated with Nazis, the author chose to exploit an “untapped goldmine” of Indigenous rights language.

“We are no more terrorists than Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse or Chief Gall who fought for their people against the imperialist General Armstrong Custer,” reads the manifesto. “Our struggle will be a lot easier if European nationalist use smart and defusing arguments instead of using supremacist arguments which can be efficiently squashed through psychological warfare propaganda or by anti-Nazi policies.”

To the author, embracing the language of Indigenous rights and victimhood was a softer, even sympathetic, strategy that would embolden efforts to reclaim European land and culture from immigrants.

A few months after the Norway attack, a German far-right anti-immigration propaganda video uploaded to YouTube featured a Green Party politician and a stereotypical “Cherokee” Indian maiden, a foreign exchange student who hopes to become a naturalized German citizen.

The politician quickly obliges — a dig at the party’s “multicultural ideals” — and the maiden tells a story about the massacre of her people by European immigrants who were allowed to settle the land by traitors in her tribe.

The righteous xenophobia revealed here has plenty of company: In 2014, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), another far-right German nationalist party, echoed the same sentiment in a meme of Hunkpapa Lakota Chief Sitting Bull, with a caption that warned: “Indians could not stop immigration. Now they live on reservations.”

“Nowadays, you see internet memes and videos on YouTube of people who tell the story of the conquest of North America and who skew historical references,” said Frank Usbeck, curator for the Americas at the State Art Collections in Dresden and former professor of American Studies at the University of Leipzig in Germany. “’Look at the Native Americans who invited the foreigners as refugees.’”

Usbeck, who has studied the links between Indigenous people and white nationalists for years, began by examining the relationship between German perceptions of Native Americans and the Völkisch Movement’s “blood and soil” ideology, which has roots in the 19th century.

“Constructing a national identity among Germans seems to have had strong roots in identifying with Native Americans and also setting oneself aside from many other Europeans,” said Usbeck, adding that this need to belong to the land and to connect with an “Indigenous” identity can be traced to early German nationalist studies of pre-Roman Germanic tribes.

Before and during World War II, Nazi propaganda declared American cultural imperialism a threat to German culture, noting that it had destroyed the Native American way of life and comparing U.S. bombing campaigns in German cities to American frontier massacres.

Usbeck calls this “co-victimization” — an invented affinity with the Native American experience of genocide and cultural loss, rhetorically linked to ideas of German victimhood. The Nazis thereby used Indigenous people to create a myth of survival, of a people fighting heroically for their homeland.

And Indigenous people remain potent symbols of outsider oppression for far-right extremism globally.

Two Greeley billboards erected in 2013, on which images of Native Americans are used to make a pro-gun rights argument, caused controversy on the Colorado city.
Courtesy Greeley Tribune

In 2013, in Greeley, Colorado, anonymous citizens bought two billboards that espoused pro-gun propaganda with the image of three armed Native Americans. The text reads: “Turn in your arms. The government will take care of you.”

Ammon Bundy’s 2016 anti-government militia takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge even tried to appeal to Native Americans: “We’re reaching out to the Paiute people, in the sincerest manner that I can,” said Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a spokesman for Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, in a video posted to YouTube (Finicum was later killed by law enforcement at a traffic stop during the occupation).

He continued, “Any claims that they (Paiutes) may have upon the lands, let’s begin that dialogue.” But the Burns Paiute Tribe quickly denounced the Malheur militia members for mishandling tribal artifacts and traditional land.

Earlier this year, a video featuring white supremacist Jared Taylor trod the same ground. “The story of the Indians is one of the strongest possible arguments for tight borders. Immigration, or more accurately, the arrival of European pioneers was a disaster for the Indians,” said Taylor. “We took their land, destroyed their way of life and put them on reservations.” The video ends with a final thought: Indians fought for their land, so why can’t whites do the same?

In the early days of U.S. colonization, white settlers waged numerous wars to displace Indigenous people.

“This idea of making (colonial) invasion look like self-defense goes all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, where the British colonists, who were declaring independence from the crown, were simply making the argument that they were defending themselves against merciless Indian savages,” said Nick Estes, author and assistant professor in the American Studies Department at the University of New Mexico. “The El Paso shooter was referencing Native people as a heroic defense against invasion, when he himself was waging a kind of a terror campaign against actual Indigenous people who are crossing the border.”

The suspected shooter also allegedly wrote that the destruction of the environment led corporate interests would limit available resources for whites, echoing the manifesto of the shooter who killed 51 at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019, who considered himself an “eco-fascist.”

Historian and author Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz says this anti-capitalist environmentalist rhetoric is designed to reach readers beyond already-sympathetic audiences.

“He hits on certain tropes that make him somewhat sympathetic to Native Americans, and he talks negatively about corporations controlling everything,” said Dunbar-Ortiz. “It is a very manipulative manifesto by a very rational guy.”

The manipulation of Indigenous struggle and victimhood has been a part of white supremacists’ modus operandi in Europe for decades. Now, white male gunmen in the U.S. are now picking up the mantle.

“Hate groups have co-opted historical U.S. symbols in a weak attempt at tearing down any progress we’ve made toward including people of all races, creeds and backgrounds as true Americans,” said Keegan Hankes, senior analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that tracks hate groups and far-right extremism in the U.S.

The El Paso shooter’s manifesto is the most recent anti-immigrant, hate-filled document to actually culminate in enormous violence. But since the shooting, the Guardian reports that police have thwarted seven similar plots by far-right extremists with racist ideologies.

“The idea of a parallel people aggressively taking land, taking whole swaths of territories — Mexicans coming in don’t have any power to do any of that,” said Dunbar-Ortiz. “It’s really obscene that he really is framing things that are completely different.”

It’s unlikely that the El Paso shooting will be the last white supremacist attack in the name of an imaginary immigrant invasion, nor the final use of Indigenous victimhood in a hate-filled manifesto.

Kalen Goodluck is an editorial fellow at High Country News. Email him at kalengoodluck@hcn.org.

Read it now: First Nation’s Focus August-September 2019 digital edition available

The August-September 2019 edition of First Nation’s Focus was inserted into the Saturday, Aug. 24, print editions of the Nevada Appeal and Record-Courier.

You can go here to flip through the digital e-edition of this month’s publication.

First Nation’s Focus focuses on tribal news of Nevada and the Eastern Sierra and is a product of the Nevada News Group.

If you’d like to promote your brand/business or learn more about advertising, email First Nation’s Focus advertising lead Bethany Sam (Hunkpapa Dakota Sioux, Kuiza-tika-ah Lee Vining Paiute, Washoe) at bethany@firstnationsfocus.com or call 775-297-1003.

If you have story ideas or content submissions, email us at info@firstnationsfocus.com with “FNF” or “First Nation’s Focus” in the subject line.

You can also follow First Nation’s Focus on Facebook at facebook.com/firstnationsfocus.

Owyhee’s Macee McKinney-Cota (Shoshone-Paiute) primed to shine at Benedictine University Mesa

In 2005, a 3-year-old ball of energy named Macee first picked up a basketball on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owyhee, a dot of a town tucked in northeastern Nevada near the Idaho border. Not much bigger than the orange sphere cradled in her hands, Macee was getting her first taste of competition during a local youth tournament.

Fifteen years later, that young Shoshone-Paiute girl, Macee McKinney-Cota, has yet to put the basketball down.

The only difference: The soon-to-be 18-year-old is no longer starring on courts in the Silver State. She’s now on the hardwoods of Arizona, putting in preseason work for the Benedictine University at Mesa women’s basketball team.

“I’m sad to leave home, but there are greater things outside of the reservation that will help me,” McKinney-Cota said in a phone interview with First Nation’s Focus. “It’s a new start, a new chapter in my life, and I’ve been preparing for it.”

Making her mark

Macee McKinney-Cota will play for the Benedictine University at Mesa women’s basketball team this fall.
Courtesy photo

Indeed, playing college basketball is a dream McKinney-Cota began reaching for since her freshman season at Owyhee. Playing point guard, McKinney-Cota averaged 10 points and two assists in her debut for the Braves. What’s more, the standout freshman helped lead Owyhee to the 2016 state championship, scoring 12 points in a 61-54 wins over rival McDermitt.

“It really just opened my eyes to how much I could accomplish and do as long as I put my heart and mind into it,” McKinney-Cota said. “My freshman year is when I decided I wanted to take further steps in pursuing basketball and my education after high school.”

It showed. A year later, as a sophomore, McKinney-Cota poured in 19.5 points per game and dished out 2.6 assists a night, helping steer the Braves to their second straight state title.

Despite being a two-time state champ after two years in high school, McKinney-Cota wasn’t satisfied. From dribbling outside of her house at all hours of the day to playing in offseason tournaments with older women from her tribe, the Owyhee could almost always be found with a basketball in her hands.

Just ask her mother, Terri Ann Cota.

“We live off of a dirt road and at the end of it is pavement,” Ann Cota told First Nation’s Focus. “This girl, during the offseason, even during the summers, you’d find her down there, running and dribbling. She did that as young as I can remember, practicing her skills. She’s a pretty dedicated young lady.”

As a junior, McKinney-Cota, already an explosive scorer, had a breakout defensive campaign. Though often the smallest player on the court, she averaged 7.1 rebounds per game, which ranked fifth in the league, to go along with 1.9 steals.

Macee McKinney-Cota rises for a running jumper during her senior season at Owyhee Combined School.
Courtesy photo

Additionally, she continued to be a handful for opposing defenses, posting 18.6 points and 2.6 assists an outing. Her sophomore and junior outings earned the point guard consecutive all-league first-team selections.

Moreover, she garnered the attention of a few college basketball teams, including Benedictine University at Mesa, which competes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

After one visit to BenU’s campus, McKinney-Cota was sold.

“The first time I went there I just loved it,” she said. “Not only because of the town of Mesa, which is right by Phoenix, but the team and the coaches were really helpful there, too. They really liked my attitude on and off the court.

“I got to practice with them and watch one of their games. Their style of play is like how I like to play — it’s really fast-paced.”

McKinney made her decision to attend BenU official in December 2018 when she signed a national letter of intent to play for the Redhawks.

“I am completely excited,” said McKinney-Cota, who plans to study psychology while at BenU.

Adding to her excitement: McKinney-Cota’s former teammate and cousin, Kaylani Smartt, a 2018 Owyhee graduate, is a rising sophomore on the team. Smartt appeared in one game as a freshman for the Lady Redhawks, who finished with a 10-13 overall record and a 6-8 mark in the California Pacific Conference last year.

“We’ve been playing basketball since elementary school,” McKinney-Cota said of Smartt. “We always talked about wanting to win a state title for high school. But, I don’t think we ever thought we’d be going to college still playing basketball.”

Breaking the mold

Macee McKinney-Cota shoots a corner 3-pointer during her senior season at Owyhee.
Courtesy photo

Quite simply, prior to turning the heads of BenU’s coaches, McKinney-Cota didn’t think play college basketball was an option.

Growing up on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, which population hovers around 1,000, McKinney-Cota was accustomed to being part of a small Native community amid family and friends. It was a comfort zone she saw many people stay settled in through college and beyond. In fact, outside of her elder cousin, Smartt, she had never heard of anybody from her Shoshone-Paiute Tribe playing basketball after high school.

“The reservation really kind of humbled me, especially as I started getting older,” she said. “It just shaped me to really focus on myself and believe in myself whether people believe in you or not. Because it doesn’t matter what others think of you — it’s just what you think of yourself and how you want to be better for yourself.”

All the while, she received heaps of support and encouragement from her family members, none more than her mother, Terri Ann Cota, her father, Manfred McKinney, and brother, Chance McKinney.

“Not a lot of kids have a good support system at home, so my family is really encouraging both on my mom and my dad’s side,” she said.

Added Teri Ann Cota: “She’s had a lot of good influences in her life, so I’m hoping that she does well (in college).”

McKinney-Cota is already planning to give back to her hometown and be a positive influence for young girls like she once was — even the 3-year-old balls of energy hitting the court for the first time. Following her freshman year at BenU, the former Owyhee Brave said she plans to hold a youth basketball camp next summer.

“I know I need to have more experience to do better as a role model,” she said. “Because a lot of the younger kids, they’re always like, ‘Macee! Macee! Macee!’ And they always want to play basketball with me. Even though they’re really young, I always still help them out and encourage them.”

UNR’s Native American Alumni Chapter named alumni chapter of the year

For the past five years, the University of Nevada, Reno Native American Alumni Chapter has been working especially hard to strengthen its relationships with Native students, past and present, and the Native community as a whole.

And their hard work is being noticed more than ever.

In fact, next month, the UNR Native American Alumni Chapter will receive the Nevada Alumni Association’s Chapter of the Year Award. The chapter will be given the honor at UNR’s Homecoming Gala on Sept. 27. Its members will also be recognized on Sept. 28 during the Nevada football team’s homecoming game against Hawaii.

The honor will be the first time the UNR Native American Alumni Chapter, which was established in early 1990, has won the chapter of the year award, according to its current members.

“It was exciting to be recognized both by the university, and to showcase what we do for our communities and for the university,” said Kathleen Wright-Bryan, treasurer of the chapter.

A major piece of the UNR Native American Alumni Chapter’s impact comes in the form of events it puts on for the community. The events are aimed at sharing the American Indian culture and heritage on the University campus through traditional events and athletic activities. 

This includes the chapter’s biggest event: the Mr. & Miss University of Nevada, Reno Powwow. The annual event, which will be held at 11 a.m. on Aug. 24 at UNR’s Knowledge Center Lawn, is for children ages 3-18, said chapter president Stephanie Wyatt, noting that they spend “all year” planning the event. Prior to the powwow is a pageant on Aug. 23 at 5:30 p.m. at the UNR Davidson Mathematics Science Center.

“The focus of that is to bring youth on campus,” Wyatt said “We want them to be involved and continue their (Native) education; to come to campus with their families and experience interactions, whether it’s a sporting event or with students, faculty and staff.”

Wyatt added that the university’s Native American Student Organization, The Center, and Residential Life, Housing and Food Service are event partners of the powwow.

Another sizable event the group co-sponsors with The Center is a graduation celebration in the spring. Specifically, the event recognizes Native American and Alaska Native students who have graduated in the spring or the previous fall.

“Every year that increases in attendance,” Wright-Bryan said. “We just want a Native American presence on campus, and I feel that a lot of our events give the university that.”

Notably, the group provides two scholarships per year worth $1,000 to Native students — one designated for an incoming freshman and the other for a transfer or returning student. Two years ago, through increased fundraising efforts, the chapter was able to raise the scholarships by $500 per student. Wyatt said one goal the chapter has for the future is to provide at least one more scholarship to a Native student.

Wright-Bryan also pointed out that the chapter even held a Native American Recognition Day during the last two Nevada softball seasons to recognize pitcher Kali Sargent of the Washoe Tribe. Sargent capped her Wolf Pack career in May.

In addition, the chapter holds does everything from holding networking events for alumni to hosting holiday parties to attending Wolf Pack football games together. The group even holds “mystery bus trips” — a chartered bus shuttles chapter members and their friends to designated Northern Nevada spots for dinner and drinks.

“I think that one of the main reasons why our group is really active is because we want to stay connected to the university after we graduated,” Wright-Bryan said.

Such was the case for Alicia Reyes, a 2018 graduate who has been a member of the UNR Native American Alumni Chapter for roughly a year. A member of the Native American Student Organization as an undergrad, Reyes saw firsthand how deeply involved the alumni chapter is in the Native community on- and off-campus.

Simply put, Reyes wanted to remain woven in the UNR Native fabric. A fabric that, thanks to the alumni chapter of the year, seems to be growing stronger each year.

“It was another group that I always felt involved with,” Reyes said of the UNR Native American Alumni Chapter. “I wanted to make sure I stayed involved with the university and help bring that cultural awareness.” O

UNR launches first-ever Paiute language course

Ralph Burns takes on a number of titles, including Pyramid Lake Paiute elder, storyteller and native-language specialist. This fall, he will add University of Nevada, Reno lecturer to the list.

Christina Thomas is a recent University graduate in music and biology, mom, former Washoe County School District teacher, experienced server, performing artist and most notably, a self-titled “language warrior.” She began as a youth Paiute language instructor in 2015, replacing Burns as a language teacher at Reed High School in Sparks, and then later took an independent study course from Burns at the University.

Often singing and dancing at events together, their mentor/mentee relationship has deepened through the years, and this year, also together, they helped create and launch the first-ever Paiute language course to be taught at the University.

Thomas begins her doctoral program in Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis this fall, with potential plans to return to the region and continue teaching and preserving the Paiute language and culture after graduate school.

“This course continues the opportunities for language learning for students who take Paiute in high school and introduces people who might not be familiar with Nevada indigenous languages to the culture and history of the land on which the University stands,” Thomas said. “I am proud to be considered a ‘language warrior’ and hope, through this class, others will also become language warriors along the way.”

Christina Thomas, a recent graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno who is of Paiute, Shoshone and Hopi descent, was instrumental in helping build the curriculum for UNR’s first-ever Paiute language course, which launches this fall.
Photo: Courtesy UNR

Burns currently teaches language courses at the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and will embark on a new journey this fall, teaching college students on campus. A written form of Northern Paiute was developed by Burns and Cathrine Fowler, a linguist at the University, years prior. They also produced learning materials for Northern Paiute, which will be incorporated in the new Paiute language course.

The goal of the First Year Northern Paiute I course is to develop speaking, listening, reading and writing skills in the language, as well as to develop a deeper understanding of Numu cultural contexts.

The course is scheduled for the Fall 2019 semester from 5:30-7:20 p.m., Monday and Wednesday evenings.

“We are excited to offer Northern Paiute for the first time,” World Languages and Literatures Chair Casilde Isabelli said. “Through the experiences and teaching from an elder of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, students will gain a better understanding and appreciation for the indigenous culture and history of our region.”

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify the Northern Paiute orthography and write basic sentences.
  • Produce basic linguistic structures of Northern Paiute, including sentence structure, agreement, basic verb tenses, and basic prepositional phrases.
  • Identify and describe the local Northern Paiute culture and its connection to the language, including connections to place and the Great Basin, traditional activities, kinship, and foods.
  • Produce basic sentences in Northern Paiute, including introductions of self and others, describing their families and relationships.
  • Comprehend spoken language in Northern Paiute and respond appropriately.
  • Read and understand short traditional narratives.
  • Compare U.S. and Northern Paiute cultures in regards to daily life, traditions, kinship, and foods.

Natalie Fry is Communications Officer for the University of Nevada, Reno. 

Wisdom Whisperers, pt. 2: Native elders share stories, advice and knowledge

One of the greatest lessons a child can learn is to honor his or her Elders.

Our Elders have paid attention, gained knowledge and wisdom from life. During their childhood, they carefully watched and listened to ceremonies and traditions, and paid attention to the way their elders in their communities behaved.

Our Elders are libraries of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, history and tradition. Learning and receiving advice from our Wisdom Keepers, Elders, is a priceless gift.


READ MORE: Read the first round of Wisdom Whisperers here.


Our Native American/American Indian Elders and Ancestors persevered & prevailed through the toughest, roughest times in our history, so we, the younger generations, can live the way we do today.

Go back in time, 100 years or less or more. Imagine not being able to powwow and wear your regalia. Imagine secretively praying to Creator and speaking your traditional language in fear that you might be killed or imprisoned for doing so.

Imagine being forcibly removed from your family/community to attend Indian Boarding Schools to learn a new language, religion, and way of life. Imagine drinking from a segregated water fountain that was specified for “Indians Only.”

Imagine not being able to eat at a restaurant. Imagine running from the Calvary for your life, starving, having no rights until 1924, etc.

Our elders and ancestors endured, fought and survived for our future. They deserve to be respected and honored.

Read words of Wisdom from local Native American elders below.

Linda Eben-Jones

Tribal Affiliation: Paiute 

From: Reno-Sparks Indian Colony  

Age: 70

Parents: Marlene Moose from Fallon, NV & Tellivan Eben from Fort Bidwell, CA 

Grandparents: Howard Moose (FPST) from Fallon, NV & Dollie Davis Moose from Yerington, NV.

What have you been taught about respecting/listening to your elders? My grandparents taught me to be respectful to elders by showing me to acknowledge them and be patient with elders, to listen and learn as much as we can from them.  

Stories or advice you’d like to share with the youth? Learn indigenous knowledge (our own stories) because our school system only teaches western (non-native) knowledge! Here’s a story: During my working career, I was hired for a summer tribal program in Arizona to teach the students about how to sew a quilt. But as we started the class there were some students who were very distracting. We agreed to make a banner instead and talked about the history of their tribe. One boy said, why do we always talk about old stuff that happened long ago, I don’t want to talk about that, it’s boring and it’s stupid. I was kind of surprised at his response, but gave an overview of how his tribe fought for their land and how the elders saved their land from being lost. I explained how important tribal history is and if you lose your language, songs and spiritual, ways you lose the family connection to your lives. I was shocked to see how this young generation disrespected their elderly who took a stand against the government to save their tribe.

What can the youth do better? Learn to respect elders. Parents need to teach our youth to respect elders advice and knowledge! Because if they don’t, they will lose their culture!


Brenda Nevers

Tribal Affiliation: Paiute Shoshone 

From: Reno, NV 

Age: A lady never tells her age. 

Parents: Warren & Adeline Stewart 

What have you been taught about respecting/listening to your elders? Right from the time babies are born is when they should be taught right from wrong.

Stories or advice you’d like to share with the youth? Respect your elders because one day, you will be an elder yourself. Treat them they way you would like to be treated.

What can the youth do better? Listen to your elders. Offer assistance when needed. You shouldn’t have to be asked to help when you see an elder doing something, no matter what it is.


Janice Stump 

Tribal Affiliation: Northern Paiute

From: Reno-Sparks Indian Colony  

Age: 64

Parents: Marlene Moose from Fallon, NV & Tellivan Eben from Fort Bidwell, CA 

Grandparents: Howard Moose (FPST) from Fallon, NV & Dollie Davis Moose from Yerington, NV.

What have you been taught about respecting/listening to your elders? Take care of our elders. Keep them safe. Check their house, help them to keep clean. If you’re at your at an elder’s home, help them wash the dishes, laundry, stock up firewood, pick up the area, take out the garbage, etc. Show your elders you care about them!

Stories or advice you’d like to share with the youth? Listen to stories & instruction of crafts, traditional outfits, beadwork, stories of family outings, family events, family history. When traveling through or to other states, pay attention to the roads, where’s the next gas station, stores, restaurants, and most importantly where your relatives homes are on your way to a destination. We all know, we have family all over the country. Make sure to take the time to visit when you can.

What can the youth do better? Introduce yourself, help walk elders to car, make conversation about family or relatives. Ask your parents, who are my relatives? Help carry heavy items. Make a safety path in bad weather. Remember it’s OK to ask questions or help. Ask about beadwork, traditional regalia, family heirlooms; ask what it’s made of and where did you get supplies. Encourage yourself your learn beading, learn old songs, learn your culture and traditions.