Pyramid Lake cultural camp teaches Paiute language to children

Loni Romo, who taught students the dances, watches over and explains to the community what the dances mean.

Loni Romo, who taught students the dances, watches over and explains to the community what the dances mean.

NIXON, Nev. — Sounds of laughter filled the Nixon Gym on July 27 as family, friends and community members gathered to celebrate the Pyramid Lake Summer Cultural Day Camp banquet. More than 90 students from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Reservation performed songs and dances they learned during the four-week long camp this July in Nixon, Nevada. “Through our summer program we have acknowledged the importance of preserving our culture and really looking at our language,” said Karen Shaw, Washoe County School District fifth-grade teacher. “When we look within the reservation, we have less than 50 fluent speakers left. Our hopes are to do all we can to preserve our language and culture, because our language is the basis of everything.” Many tribal nations are struggling to hold onto their languages and culture, due to the colonization and historical trauma of boarding schools done onto indigenous peoples. Some nations have lost their language and are tirelessly working with linguists to bring it back to the people. The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe felt the need to bring back the culture to teach the kids, and with programs like Pyramid Lake Summer Cultural Day Camp, preserving the language and culture is becoming a reality. “It's important we step up and tell the kids who they are and where they come from,” said Gladys Hicks, Paiute language teacher and elder. “I grew up with it, so I never forgot.” Hicks’ father was a chief for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, and his mural can be seen on painted the walls of the Nixon Gym. Her father participated in pageants and parades throughout the state of Nevada, singing, dancing and carrying the culture wherever he went. “I just want the kids to know their culture,” Hicks said. “It's good for them, and they seem to really enjoy it.” Amelia Scott, another language teacher and elder, enjoyed teaching colors, animals and how to count in the Paiute language. She expressed her concern for the children and the future of their language. “Most of the kids don’t understand it at all,” said Scott. “That’s because their parents don’t speak it to them, but Gladys and I can. So we were asked to be a part of this program.” Heidi Barlese, cultural coordinator of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, worked alongside the elders to create a book for the students so they can continue to study the language once the summer program comes to an end. “Paiute is our language,” said Barlese. “The kids need to learn it, and that's what this summer program is all about.” The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Cultural Summer Day Camp is provided by the First Nations Native Youth and Cultural Fund, which is a $20,000 grant from the First Nations Development Institute of Longmont, Colorado. The award supports the summer day camp to immerse elementary school-aged students into the language and culture. “I wrote the grant to start the summer cultural day camp,” said Janet Davis, Tribal Recreational Coordinator for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. “We were surprised to be selected, because over 130 programs apply and only 20 get selected each year.” This was the second year the tribe received the grant, and it has immensely helped with continuation of the summer day camp. “This whole thing was started three years ago,” said Davis. “We know it is very important to carry on the traditions. We are running out of fluent speakers and the only way to instill it into our kids is to start with the younger generation.” The hope of the Pyramid Lake Summer Cultural Day Camp is to continue to teach the children so that it will spark something in the children keep the traditions alive. Jarrette Werk (Aaniiih) is a journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno, and works for the Sierra Nevada Media Group as an intern, writing and taking photos for First Nation's Focus. Email him at


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