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Washoe Language Circle and elders bask in memories of summit

Holly Atchison

Just weeks after the acquisition of 400 acres of Lake Tahoe land by the Washoe Tribe, some of the key players in the negotiations, the Washoe elders and the tribe’s language circle, are still basking in their accomplishments.

The elders and members of the language circle attended three summit meetings and read a list of their concerns in both English and Washoe to Vice President Gore.

“We were involved in the conservation meetings,” said language circle member Adele James. “The language circle was involved in that, and we did prayers at the meetings. I’m sure we touched many of the hearts of the people up at Tahoe.”

“It took a lot of planning, and it was very stressful because we didn’t know if we were stepping on anybody’s toes,” said language circle member Eleanore Smokey. “Our whole attitude towards this was very positive, very sincere.

“I think everything turned out better than we expected.”

“A long time ago, the Washoes were able to walk around anywhere at the Lake, and now we couldn’t because there were all kinds of no trespassing signs,” Smokey said. “The water was so pure that it was drinkable, and we wished it could be like that again. The Lake was very precious and sacred to us for its medicinal value.”

“We accomplished what we wanted,” said James. “We’ve been struggling to get some land up there which is what we got. The elders’ dreams all came true. We thought that was a real accomplishment.

“It was a good thing and a sad thing at the summit when they signed the land back over. We had a lot of elders that had passed on and had dreamed of getting the land back someday.”

James believes the elders were a main factor in the success of the summit meetings.

“I think the elders had a lot to do with it,” she said. “They gave us a lot of information of what happened in their time up there. A friend in the Forest Service allowed the elders to go to the historic places they remembered.”

“I welcomed the president and shook hands with him and talked with him about the land,” said elder Amy Barber.

“All summer long, the elders did pray for the water and the land and the forest,” James said. “We took the elders around up there and when we did meet with the tribal chairman, we let him know that the elders were interested in these areas.

“It gives them a good feeling to go back up there when they can, and now that we have some land up there, I hope everybody will spend sometime up there showing the children the plants we do have around Tahoe.”

“We’re really thrilled, and we’re going to go up there and see if there are any of the medicinal plants still there,” said Smokey. “I know that since this meeting, everything they do up there is going to be positive. It has to improve the Lake because I have a boat and you can look down and see all the murkiness and algae.”

“I know there are a lot of people mad on the clarity of the Lake,” tribe member Harvey Jim said. “I know it comes from all those jet skis.”

Jim said he believes the problem is negligence when putting gas in the jet skis when they are in the water.

“They don’t realize it,” he said. “They think it’ll wash away.”

“I hope they can clean that up in other ways than by saying you can’t have boats and Seadoos out here. It’s too drastic in saying no more boating,” Smokey said.

Along with the elders, the language circle also attended the environmental workshops to have their voices heard.

Smokey read the list of concerns in English and was worried that the audience would think the opinions were solely hers.

“I felt that a lot of people thought it was just my idea, but it was the whole language circle,” she said. “It was what we all put together.”

“I think the summit was really good,” James said. “We had a real nice visit with the president and the vice president.

“Gore spoke of the Washoes all the time. He mentioned we were the tribe that was there a long time ago and that we did exist up there before our land was taken. I’m sure he understood what we had in our hearts and minds.”

“I thought that was pretty nice of Mr. Gore, what he did,” said Jim. “The vice president, I thought he was pretty nice. I thought I could get along with him. At least he understands what’s going on.

“He’s probably realizing we’ve been after that land since the 1800s. All they gave us was the Pinenut range. We would have been better off if we could have had both places.

“This place has been prejudiced so long, I’m glad he came in and told us we could have our land back. People are afraid to say that this place is prejudice. It’s sort of mellowing out a bit, I’ll tell you that.”

“I’m glad I had a part in this,” Smokey said. “I can show my grandkids I have met the president and the vice president. I was really thrilled because I have admired him (Clinton) all along.

“I thought they were going to be very official, but they were just very down to earth. Vice President Gore has a very likable personality. He’s so easy to talk to. President Clinton was, too. He looked right at you, and he had such beautiful eyes.

“It was the experience of a lifetime.”

“I thought it was very educational,” Jim said, on attending the meetings. “Even shaking hands with the vice president. I told him I thought he was going to be our next president. He didn’t say anything, just got red in the face.”

“I thought it was wonderful,” said Washoe tribe elder Wynonna James. “It was once in a lifetime to see both presidents at the same time, the vice president and the president. I thought it was an honor. A lot more than a lot of people get.”

“We were all very happy that we got something out of the whole summit,” James said. “I think that was a big encouragement that we’re still there. Our hearts are still with Tahoe.”

“It surprised everybody that they gave the land back to us,” Jim said. “I was telling my tribesmen what I think they were trying to do. They would have made that place another Monte Carlo. I think we put a dent in their thinking.”

“Now, I think we can stay up there and enjoy ourselves without people telling us to move,” he said.

“Now that we are involved in the land, I hope we will be included in some of the decisions being made up there by TRPA,” James said. “At the meetings, they were all very understanding. Things may be for the better if we work together.”