I’m tired of the rhetoric aimed at Indians | RecordCourier.com

I’m tired of the rhetoric aimed at Indians

Carnegie Smokey

This letter is in response to other letters and interviews published in The Record-Courier concerning the recent flooding in the Carson Valley.

I’m tired of hearing all the rhetoric being vented at Indians lately, particularly the uninformed barbs aimed at my tribe – the Washoe. One guy even wants to “circle the wagons” because we’re finally taking an active interest in our environment. The environment I’m referring to is not the outdoor one with which we are already intimately familiar, but the separate one created by Mr. Dewey Jay and his fellow Europeans.

In the early ’80s, on the East Fork of the Carson River, a mass of ice 10 feet high extending to the old power dam and beyond was being held in check by a one-inch cable strung between stanchions on the Washoe Tribe’s concrete ford. Fearing for the safety of Riverview Trailer Park’s residents, Douglas County officials reassured the tribe that they would help repair any damage to the ford if the cable were cut immediately rather than waiting for it to break. The cable was cut, the ice floated serenely downstream and Douglas County sent one dumptruck load of gravel as their contribution in the two weeks of work it took to re-open the ford to traffic.

As he served on the board of the Gardnerville Ranchos General Improvement District, perhaps Mr. Jay recalls the discussions regarding the Washoe Tribe’s – through the Washoe Housing Authority – wishes to hook up customers in Dresslerville to the sewage plant in Minden. In the late ’70s, the GRGID board approached the tribe for assistance in obtaining federal monies (for which they’d already been turned down) to extend the sewage line from Highway 395 and Riverview to the intersection of Long Valley Road and Dresslerville Road so that development of the Ranchos could continue. In return, the tribe would receive “substantially lower rates for hook-up and service than the surrounding communities” if and when the tribe opted to exercise their option. When that time did come, several years ago, no one from GRGID seemed to remember the agreement.

As Armand Hammer, the noted industrialist, supposedly said, “A verbal agreement’s not worth the paper it’s written on.” As you see, the tribe has learned some very bitter and painful lessons over the years and that’s part of the reason for the seeming inactivity in the East Fork of the Carson River.

It seems to me that more people are afraid of their own government rather than the tribe since I haven’t seen any criticism, of the experts from afar (the Texas company) who got paid an astronomical sum to construct a ditch to contain a river, all under the guise of “emergency repairs to the river which are not designed to protect property” (Dick Mirgon quote in The Record-Courier). If people were to look at the river today they will see that the bulk of this ludicrous “work” was done to protect the Riverview Trailer Park and, especially, the golf course area.

What is meant by a 50-, 100-, or 500-year flood event? The only people who can tell you are ridiculed and dismissed because their methods are not scientific enough to warrant consideration. However, I will tell you that this past January’s flooding was my sixth in the past 40 years and after talking to others who have lived through seven and even eight events, the consensus is that this last one was greater than the one in ’63 and less than the one in ’55-56. The 1950 and 1937 floods were supposedly more devastating than the 1955-56 one was. At that time, the water was observed to come up the bluff roughly 10 feet from the flood plain, causing the waters to extend to Highway 395 where, today, a 7-Eleven, a dental office, and three houses sit. “Chicken Annie’s” (just to the north of the dental office) chickens were strewn from there to Lutheran Bridge and beyond.

There is no scientific basis for these assertions, it is simply what was observed. Another observation is that the river is currently in an unnatural (man-made) channel and that every flood of consequence rampaged through what is now the golf course area. Also, all flood control work lasted only until conditions were ripe for the next one.

If Mr. Jay was one of the golf course residents who tore their hair and gnashed their teeth in the aftermath of the ’86 flood, threatening to sue the taxpayers of this county for not protecting them from themselves, why hasn’t he moved in the 11 years since? For all the griping and complaining about government that some people do I find it ironic that whenever disaster strikes, government is the one everyone looks for to bail them out. Whatever happened to good old self-reliance?

Mr. Jay’s desire to see a levee constructed to withstand a 500-year flood to protect himself and his friends at the expense of the tribe illustrates another sad reality – that the perception of the Washoe Tribe by Europeans has not changed in the past 60 years. This is borne out by the Douglas Planning Board’s resolution contained in the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ “Report on Washoe Indians in Douglas County, 1938” as well as other documents wherein the Washoes are maligned as “inferior peoples.”

By insinuating his “rights” take precedence over ours, Mr. Jay’s comments parallel those of Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyen’s views in a R-C article about the Pyramid Lake Paiutes’ quotes intimated that the Lahontan cutthroat trout was somehow intrinsically more valuable than the lowly cui-ui sucker. In reality, both have an incalculable value to their ecosystems, and neither is inherently more valuable than the other. Secondly, the Lahontan National Fish Hatchery south of Gardnerville utilizes water from several deep wells for their operations and cannot rely solely on river water. And thirdly, if the good commissioner’s concern were so great perhaps he could in some way assist the Summit Lake Paiutes in their struggle to ensure this fish’s survival whose last natural stronghold is in their lake.

The biggest issue by far is this European notion of “owning” water. How can you own something that cannot be manufactured, cloned, or replicated in some manner? From whom do you purchase it, who is the original owner? For this wondrous natural element to have an artificial value put on it – to own something that is not only priceless in a monetary sense, but also in the sense that it is an elemental part of our bodies without which we cannot survive is, to me, the epitome of arrogance.

Editor’s note: Carnegie Smokey is a member of the Washoe Tribe and a Dresslerville resident.