Reviving the tradition of dance

by Sharlene Irete

Washoe elder Steve James is the dew bayu of the gumsabay, which in Washoe means he is the leader of the get-together.

The get-together is the pine nut dance ceremony hosted by the Washoe Tribe at the Dresslerville Gym on Saturday. And it's been about 50 years since last one.

"We're trying to bring back old Washoe traditions - the custom of dance and language is what we're working on," Steve James, 77, said about reviving the dance. "We don't have that many speakers, and customs and traditions fall behind that."

The idea of the pine nut dance is to thank the creator for a good harvest. A traditional dinner of deer meat, rabbit stew and pan bread will be served and pot luck dishes of salads and desserts are welcome at the dance. Steve James said no dancing skills are needed.

"The pine nut dance is a circle dance," he said. "No drums, just singing. Everyone's invited."

Pine nuts were traditionally gathered after a blessing and the pine nut dance ceremony in late August or September.

"This year they had the blessing at the end of August, and people are already out gathering," said Edmund James. "We'll be celebrating at the dance and then we'll go out together to gather."

The hope is for young people understand and carry on with the tradition.

"We had the blessing in an area on trust land near a creek that had easy access for people to get to," said Steve James. "The tribal youth - the kids - liked the idea.

"Years ago my mother said different families got together at Double Springs with a dance and dinners. The next morning everybody goes out to their thing and gather. She said they used to have a ceremony for two to three days, years ago."

The pine nut dance used to be an annual event, but Steve James said he forgot the last one they had. His son, Edmund, 46, said that he remembered a dance when he was 8 or 10 at the gym.

"I remember I was very young, but I got to stay up late," he said.

Gardnerville Ranchos resident Vernon Wyatt, 70, said he was about 20 at the last pine nut dance he attended.

"I kind of remember we half-heartedly attended some dances. People had lost interest by then," said Wyatt. "But everyone used to look forward and participate. It was a grand old time.

"We haven't had one because we drifted off doing other things, so this year the idea is an attempt to revive and restore something that we practiced annually."

Wyatt said people who wanted to go to a pine nut dance went to the Walker River Paiute Tribe's annual festival in Schurz.

"We're trying to start it up again here, using people's best recollections," he said. "We're in the process of finding singers - we used to have singers coming out of our ears.

"There's a lot of interest with the young people. Steve (James) is an essential member of the tribe, so people are looking to him," Wyatt said.

"We'll get our collective heads together and make things up."

The Washoe Tribe hosts a pine nut dance ceremony at dusk Saturday at the Dresslerville Gym on Watasheamu Road, Dresslerville. Traditional dinner served. Pot luck items welcome at the drug-free, alcohol-free event. Singers needed. Contact Senior Center Director Sharon Doan, 265-6426 or


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