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Federal government returns some Tahoe land to Washoe Tribe

Holly Atchison

With Lake Tahoe as the backdrop, the Washoe Tribe was victorious this weekend in their quest for the return of ancestral land in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The Washoe Tribe was represented on the panel at the Presidential summit this past weekend, attending the workshops dealing with the impacts of environmental issues on Lake Tahoe.

In the end, two parcels of land were given to the Washoes. A 45 acre plot on the South Shore of Tahoe will allow the tribe to establish a Washoe Cultural Center. Another 350 acres on the West shore at Meeks Bay Meadows will allow the Washoes to gather native plants, practice early traditions, fish, camp and swim without having to pay.

“We’re quite excited,” said Washoe elder JoAnn Martinez. “I think it’s wonderful that they were able to do what they did. I think our chairman (Brian Wallace) did a tremendous job.

“I think this is great news for all our people what happened up there this weekend.”

“I think that’s very good what they did,” said Theresa Jackson, Martinez’s sister and fellow Washoe tribe member. “It’s about time we can at least go to the water and not see all the private property signs and keep outs.

“We’ve waited a long time. We had felt like we weren’t welcome.”

Jackson said the U.S. Forest Service escorted tribe members to the area at Meeks Bay where they were allowed to gather materials used for making baskets and medicinal plants.

“Now we’ll free to go in and look for some of our medicinal plants,” Martinez said.

“I think that’s great we can do that without being afraid that they will run you off,” Jackson said.

Both women said there are certain types of plants that only grow in that area and most of it has been lost.

“There are ferns used to make baskets and some medicinal plants back in the woods which have been walked on which might come back if the area is taken care of,” Jackson said.

Martinez and Jackson gave a blessing to Vice President Gore and the Lake at the workshops on Friday.

“The blessing went pretty well,” Jackson said. “What was nice was it was outside, out in the open. Everything was natural.”

“I was nervous at the beginning, but when you’re in a prayer, a calmness comes over you. You feel the spirit,” Martinez said.

“Many people were crying, moved to tears. It’s good to know there are people who care and feel the spirit.”

“I know Mr. Gore did. How can any person not feel the sacredness just being at Lake Tahoe, just to see the beauty of the Lake and the mountains. You seem like you just feel rested when you go there. It’s a personal thing that you get from it.”

The sacredness of Lake Tahoe is the issue that means so much to the Washoe people, especially the elderly, Martinez said.

“We hope people will care for it, not just for the Indian people but for all people,” she said.

The land acquisition deals were done Friday with Gore.

“We got to visit with Gore more so than Clinton,” Jackson said. “We had a private meeting with Gore after all the business was taken care of.

“He was really outgoing. He talked with everybody and shook hands with everyone. He was really pleasant I thought.”

“I was impressed with his openness,” Martinez said. “He seemed like a regular guy. He laughed easily, and he joked, and it was easy to be around him. I enjoyed being around him.”

“We were all saying he was going to be our next president,” Jackson said.

Martinez said she thought both Gore and Clinton were concerned with the needs of the Washoes.

“They heard our voice,” she said. “We felt our friends were approaching.

Many problems were addressed at the workshop Friday, Martinez said.

“There are a lot of problems that will have to be solved, like the pollution,” she said. “There were so many issues brought up and people were looking for ways to solve them. I was tempted to stand up and say, ‘give it back to the Indians. We’ll do what we can with it.’

“It seemed like everyone was coming together for a common cause.”

After the stress of the workshop on Friday, Martinez and Jackson weren’t sure if they were going to make the conference with President Clinton.

“We were tired and we didn’t really care to go to that one because of the waiting and walking,” Jackson said. “At the last minute we decided to go.”

Both women had a chance to meet and talk with Clinton before he left.

“He said hello to everyone,” Jackson said. “He was nice. He was always smiling.”

“I think the President was a little reserved,” said Martinez, “but he has to be.”

Fawn Pasqua, Miss Indian Nevada, was on-hand to introduce members of the tribe to Gore.

“I thought it was good how the Washoes got land,” she said. “You know how the history books have time periods, I think it was like that. Everything happened at once and it was all good.”

“It was a dream,” Jackson said.

“We were exhausted from all the hullabaloo,” Martinez said. “We did a lot of walking, and it was quite tiring but I think it went over really well.”