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Tribe made gains under Democrats

by Sheila Gardner, Record-Courier editor

The day after the election, Washoe Tribal Chairman Brian Wallace sat in his cramped office at the Dresslerville colony contemplating voting results.

Despite the flap in Florida over the national ballot count, Wallace pointed with pride to Dresslerville: all of the tiny precinct’s 119 voters turned out for the election.

The results? Of the 115 ballots cast for president, 108 voted for Al Gore, 5 for George W. Bush, 1 for Ralph Nader and 1 for Pat Buchanan. Four electors chose not to vote for president.

“I don’t think you are going to find another precinct in the United States that had 100 percent turnout,” Wallace said. “Irregardless of partisanship, our people believe it is tremendously important to vote. We take our obligation seriously to the service and sacrifices paid for the right to vote.”

The Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada includes approximately 1,500 members in two states.

For the past eight years, Wallace has enjoyed a close relationship with the White House. He shared the podium with President Clinton and Vice President Gore during the 1997 Lake Tahoe presidential summit. He attended the Democratic convention in Los Angeles. As recently as Nov. 4, Wallace was included in a conference telephone call with Gore.

Along with the rest of the country, the Washoe Tribe is waiting to see what the election outcome will be.

“The Democratic Party more closely reflects the the character of the Washoe Tribe,” Wallace said, explaining the overwhelming majority of votes.

Despite his access to the White House, Wallace said he plans to stay in Dresslerville.

“Our work is eternally linked to federal issues,” he said. “We still deal with questions that were relevant to us 100 years ago.”

The tribe is in the process of updating its 1991 strategic plan to reflect the new century.

“Our goals have not changed: protecting our cultural sovereignty, preserving freedom of expression of our aboriginality, protecting the Washoe homelands and advancement of the Washoe Tribe’s political and economic self-determination,” Wallace said.

“Our goal is to raise a generation of children to match our mountains,” he said.

Recently, Clinton signed an executive order, the Indian Land Consolidation Act amendments, designed to to strengthen government-to-government relationships with Indian tribes and to reduce unfunded mandates.

The act further reaffirms the government’s recognition of the right of Indian tribes to self-government, tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

On Thursday, Clinton proclaimed November as National American Indian Heritage Month.

The Clinton-Gore administration showed “an interest in correcting the history of this region with respect to the Washoe repatriation at Lake Tahoe,” Wallace said.

The tribe has made progress in regaining access to ancestral land at Lake Tahoe which was denied to them more than a century ago.

After the 1997 Lake Tahoe summit, the Washoes were granted the franchise by the U. S. Forest Service to operate a busy resort at Meeks Bay. Just last month, 25 acres of USFS land located north of Skunk Harbor were conveyed to the Washoe tribe for traditional and customary uses, prohibiting commercial, residential or recreational development.

“For the past three years, we have been able to go to bed at night knowing the Washoe people can again sleep at Lake Tahoe,” Wallace said.

Despite the uncertainty of the election, Wallace is optimistic that the tribe will maintain strong ties to Washington.

“At first, the Bush blueprint had anomalies with tribal issues in regard to tribal sovereignty, but he’s modified his perspective to make that less adverse. Bush said Wednesday if he is elected, his priority would be to build the confidence of the people who didn’t vote for him.”

He said tribal members are concerned.

“People who spoke to me were afraid Indian affairs would return to the ‘termination era’ of the 1950s when the Republicans controlled the White House and the Senate. That’s the time when people felt they were crossing the dark waters. For the past eight years, we are beginning to feel we made the crossing to the light. It’s frightening to the Indian people to go back,” Wallace said.

“Every contest, whether it is won or lost, prepares us for the next one,” he added.