First female tribe leader feels called to role
Wanda Batchelor made history when she was elected to lead the Washoe Tribe, the first woman ever to do so.
Batchelor said a year into her position the transition has been a smooth one.
“We’re a matriarchal society,” she explained.
And her personality is suited for the job.
“I’ve always been a leader all my life,” she said. “This is just the next step for me.”
Batchelor was named this year’s American Indian Community Leader by the Nevada Indian Commission.
“As the leader of the tribe, she allows everyone an opportunity to be heard and feel valued,” the award states. “On the other hand, she is able to make decisions when it comes to the advancement of the tribe and the people.”
She said she was honored by the award, but was not alone in earning it.
“I embrace this recognition on behalf of the Washoe people,” she said.
Batchelor has a long history in law enforcement and social work in California before moving to Carson City, when she began working for the Washoe Tribe.
She served an eight-year term as the chairwoman of the Stewart Indian Community and four years as the chairwoman of the Washoe Tribal Council, among other roles.
As a tribe, there are struggles with the economy like everywhere else, she said, but they will overcome.
“We have a strong connection to the land,” she said. “There’s a strong sustainability. We’re from here. We’re survivors.”
While she leads the Washoe Tribe, she understands the importance of working with all levels of government to ensure success.
“You have to walk with a balance of the white world and red world,” she said. “We’re not just dealing with tribal stuff. It’s federal, state, county, tribal to tribal.”
Despite her load of professional responsibilities, Batchelor continues to honor her heritage as a member of the Maidu Dancers and Traditionalists. She also practices in the art of basket weaving and regalia making and gathers pinenuts and acorns, as taught by her Washoe grandmothers and Maidu great-grandmother.
“That’s the foundation of what unites us,” she said. “You must carry forth the gifts that were given to you by your elders.”
When faced with difficulties, personally or professionally, she relies on the teachings from her youth to spiritual guidance.
She said she prays every morning with the rise of the sun and turns to Lake Tahoe for spiritual cleansing.
Her upbringing also prepared her for taking on the traditionally male role.
“I came from 11 brothers,” she said. “I’m pretty tough.”
2011 American Indian Achievement Awards
The Nevada Indian Commission honored four Nevadans earlier this month for their contributions to the American Indian community.
The 2011 American Indian Achievement Awards Banquet and Silent Auction on Nov. 5 was the first statewide effort to recognize those who have influenced the lives of American Indians.
Gov. Brian Sandoval proclaimed November as American Indian Heritage Month.
“I congratulate the recipients of this year’s awards at the American Indian Achievement Award Banquet,” Sandoval said. “I applaud the award winners for their leadership and commitment to preserving the American Indian community in Nevada.”
The five-member Indian Commission Executive Board selected the recipients.
“Each and every one of this year’s recipients is well deserved,” said Sherry Rupert, executive director of the commission. “They all have shown remarkable leadership and achievement. We are very pleased to be able to honor these four individuals during American Indian Heritage month.”