Nevada Billionaires Have Equal Rights—But Not Natives—Paiutes Charge

This article first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in September 2016.

Nevada tribal members are effectively disenfranchised by the long distances they must travel to vote.
Chairmen Bobby Sanchez and Vinton Hawley, of the Walker River and Pyramid Lake Paiute tribes, respectively, are plaintiffs in a major new voting-rights lawsuit, filed in federal court in Nevada. They are joined by three military veterans from their communities: Ralph Burns, Robert James and Johnny Williams, Jr. “We know that these veterans have already paid for the equality we seek for all our people,” the two chairmen announced in a joint public statement.

The lawsuit follows the rejection of tribal requests to Nevada’s chief elections official, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske and two counties for full access to national elections, including reservation satellite offices for registration and early and Election Day voting. According to the plaintiffs, Walker River Paiute Tribe voters must currently travel 70-some miles round trip to register and early vote in the Mineral County seat, while Pyramid Lake voters have a 96-mile round trip to the Washoe County seat, along with limited Election Day voting.

The rejection “is an apparent effort to dilute Indian voting strength,” the plaintiffs allege. As such, they say, it violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as well as the U.S. and Nevada constitutions. Both tribal chairmen called for a Justice Department investigation.

Lawsuit defendants include Cegavske and county election officials. The county officials cited the difficulty of complying with the request in time for the election. “Their inconvenience has nothing to do with the voting rights of Native voters,” said OJ Semans, Rosebud Sioux director of Four Directions voting-rights group, which is assisting the plaintiffs.

A Four Directions consultant, Bret Healy, questioned the elections officials’ fiscal wisdom. Fulfilling Pyramid Lake’s request would cost about $4,000, and Walker River’s about $3,000, Healy estimated. In contrast, defending against a federal voting-rights suit can cost millions, Healy said.

Washoe County already has 22 early-voting locations, but has placed all of them in non-Native communities, noted University of Utah political science professor Daniel McCool in an expert report for the plaintiffs. This makes casting a ballot even easier for those who already have full access, he wrote: “I did not find any evidence that the county has ever provided early voting sites to the poorest [and most remote] people in the county—the Pyramid Lake Paiute.” Voting by mail is fraught with errors and not a viable alternative, according to McCool.

Some of Washoe County’s primarily white communities are exceptionally wealthy, with homes on Lake Tahoe that can cost many millions of dollars. “Tribal members, whose income may be less than one-one-hundredth of the Lake Tahoe billionaires’, travel long distances to vote in Nevada. That’s assuming they have a vehicle and gas money,” said Semans. “The burdens exacerbate the inequality.”

Native poverty and the state’s longtime violence and discrimination against tribal members provide a context for the suit that “is not a pretty history,” McCool added.

Separately from the lawsuit, Four Directions has charged that emails the organization received, along with conversations with county officials, indicate that the secretary of state and counties used a recent teleconference to “get on the same page,” as one official put it, and forestall Native equality. “If one county gave in, more would have to,” said Healy.

Not so, said the Secretary Cegavske’s public information officer, Kaitlin Barker: The teleconference to discuss the tribal requests was normal procedure, to “promote uniform application of federal and state election laws.” Because of the lawsuit, Barker said, the secretary of state’s office would not comment further.

Text and photograph c. Stephanie Woodard.

Zero Is Not Enough—Nevada Tribes Demand Voting Rights

This story first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in August 2016. For more on Native equal-rights battles, go here for a Navajo victory and here for an ultimately successful North Dakota lawsuit.

Many Nevada tribal members must travel long distances to get to a ballot box.


Three Nevada Paiute tribes—Pyramid Lake, Yerington and Walker River—have asked their respective counties and the state’s secretary of state for equal access to the vote. Until now, tribal members have had very limited opportunities to cast a ballot in national elections, say chairpersons Vinton Hawley, Laurie Thom and Bobby Sanchez, respectively. 

Yerington’s situation is extreme, Thom told the secretary of state: “Our tribal members have zero access to in-person voter registration, in-person early voting and in-person Election Day voting on our reservation.”

The vast distances that many tribal members must travel if they wish to vote in Nevada—ranging from scores to hundreds of miles—exacerbates the inequality, said Bret Healy, of Four Directions voting-rights group, which is helping organize the effort.

Even worse, if a Nevada precinct has less than 200 registered voters, voting occurs by mail. However, political scientist Jean Schroedel has found that this alternative tends not to work, since it depends on the unreliable mail service typically provided to reservations.

Taken together, these problems make Nevada the most unequal state for Native voters, said Healy.

The secretary of state’s office confirmed receipt of the tribes’ requests. “Secretary Cegavske is reviewing the information…and looks forward to discussing these concerns with representatives of the tribes and counties,” Deputy Secretary of State Gail Anderson wrote in an email.

Healy was optimistic. “We anticipate productive conversations and the opportunity to secure equal rights for Nevada’s Native voters,” he said.

Photograph by Stephanie Woodard; c. Stephanie Woodard.


Down and Dirty: Destruction Accelerates at Ancient Native Site

This article first appeared on Indian Country Today Media Network in July 2016. For more, see articles below: Gods and Monsters, also ICTMN, and Eve of Destruction, on Rural America In These Times.


Members of the Battle Mountain Band of Te-Moak Western Shoshone visited the Tosawihi Quarries on June 22 to view and pray over the remains of a doctoring trail that leads into and through the sacred site. The trail, which has been declared eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, is a critical feature of a northern Nevada cultural landscape that the Western Shoshone and other tribes have used for at least 10,000 years. 

However, construction of a mining-related power line along the doctoring trail is in the process of obliterating it. Starting about two weeks prior to the June 22 visit shown here, a road has been bulldozed over the spiritual pathway, and a long trench has been gouged across the face of a nearby hillside. 

Battle Mountain Band council member and former chairman Joe Holley said that when tribal members saw what was happening, they were horrified and speechless. “It is so much damage,” Holley said, adding that the extent of the destruction seemed gratuitous. “It feels like they are doing more than necessary to build a power line. Just ripping up the land.” 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which administers the land the Tosawihi Quarries and the trail sit on, allowed this phase of construction to proceed, despite ongoing long-term litigation over the project. 

The Band’s attorney, Rollie Wilson, of Fredericks, Peebles & Morgan, has told Indian Country Today Media Network that if a full panel of Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judges does not step in quickly, as the Band has requested in its most recent court filings, an exceptional place that Shoshones have called central to their culture will be entirely destroyed. 

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) an independent federal agency charged with overseeing the nation’s historical resources, would not comment on the threat. Spokesperson Matt Spangler referred ICTMN to ACHP’s website, which describes the importance of tribal expertise in assessing protection of tribal places, among other topics.

The website also says that the ACHP’s job is “to encourage federal agencies to consider preservation in planning federal projects.” As a result, its recommendations are just that. Indeed, Spangler has also told ICTMN that on the Tosawihi project the ACHP is deferring to the BLM, which is the lead federal agency on the project. At press time, the BLM had not responded to requests for a comment.

“What drives them to constantly deface and destroy?” Holley asked. “That’s so hard for us to understand.” 

Photos courtesy Battle Mountain Band of Te-Moak Western Shoshone; article c. Stephanie Woodard.





Gods and Monsters: Bulldozer Rips Into Ancient Shoshone Sacred Site

This article was first published on Indian Country Today Media Network in July 2016. For more, see Lost Bones, Damage and Harassment at Ancient Sacred Site, also on ICTMN; two posts below this one, you'll find Eve of Destruction, published on Rural America In These Times. 

A bulldozer plows up a doctoring trail in a site Western Shoshone and others have used for more than 10,000 years.
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the Te-Moak Band of Western Shoshone’s request for an emergency injunction to stop the destruction of an ancient trail in the Tosawihi Quarries, a 10,000-year-old sacred site. Though a legal appeal and an over-arching lawsuit concerning the entire project are still pending, an international gold-mining consortium’s bulldozer is already at work constructing a power line along the doctoring trail, said the Band’s attorney, Rollie Wilson, of the law firm Fredericks Peebles & Morgan. 

The construction equipment was fired up within days of the court’s June 8 order, according to Wilson. The one-page decision did not detail the court’s reasoning.

Destruction of the doctoring trail, which connects healing places, means irreparable harm to the culture and identity of the Western Shoshone, said Joe Holley, a member of the Band’s council and a former chairman. The Band is now asking for a rehearing by the full court, a legal process that may take several months. Unless the rehearing is granted on an emergency basis, construction is likely to continue, and the trail may well be obliterated, said Wilson. 

The entire cultural landscape, including the doctoring trail and additional related places, is revered by several tribes in addition to the Western Shoshone. The Tosawihi Quarries currently sit on federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which has declared them eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

“To get a rehearing, you have to cite a clear error of law,” said Wilson. “In this case, once properties are deemed eligible for the Historic Register, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires that you determine whether undertaking like the power line will have an effect on them and then figure out how to mitigate or avoid the effects. BLM, which issued the permit for the power line, along with other mining activities in the Quarries, did not take that final step. They determined the trail eligible, then let the mining company bulldoze right through it.”

BLM documents show that the agency appears to keep the mining consortium’s concerns top of mind. In March 2014, BLM approved the current round of gold mining after a telephone call from the company’s legal counsel to a BLM staffer to advise that the consortium needed the Record of Decision (ROD) for Tosawihi mining activities in time for a quarterly report to investors. Emails with the subject line “urgent” began flashing among BLM employees, warning against delay. 

“They are requesting that the ROD and approval be signed or dated no later than March 31. March 31 is the end of the first quarter,” emailed one BLM staffer. 

Another BLM employee joined in, warning of tribal concerns. Despite the statutory requirement to consider them, the BLM got the ROD signed in time for the quarterly report. 

The Band has engaged in a multi-generational fight to protect the Quarries, Holley said. For decades, BLM has tried to limit recognition of tribal sacred sites in the area, Holley charged; earlier mining activities had scarred much of the landscape and depleted its waters, but the Band has hoped to prevent further destruction, he said. Ted Howard, cultural resources director and member of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, has called the Quarries “the center of our spiritual being.”

“They tell us this power line is only a temporary impact,” Holley said. “But for twenty or thirty years—an entire generation—the line’s presence means we will not be able to practice our culture, religion and spirituality in this important place. We will lose the chance to pass these practices and traditions to the next generation, and that means they will be gone forever. We will lose another piece of our culture, which we are working hard to maintain and which the United States has a trust responsibility to protect.”

Matt Spangler, spokesperson for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), described it as the “federal agency lead” on the project, but adding that questions of broad tribal trust policy were outside ACHP’s purview. Spangler deferred to the BLM for questions about the effects on the trail and the BLM’s relationship with the mining company. 

At press time, BLM spokesperson Chris Rose said he would have a statement ready within a few days. For its part, the Nevada-based mining company, Carlin Resources, an arm of Toronto-based Waterton Global Mining Company, which is part of a firm headquartered in the Cayman Islands, had not responded to requests for a comment. 

Photographs courtesy Battle Mountain Band of Te-Moak Western Shoshone. Article c. Stephanie Woodard.

Hip Hop Hoop Dance and More: Young Natives Innovate While Honoring Traditions

Anshe:kwe dance group processes across the desert near their Zuni Pueblo home. Photograph by Joseph Zummo.
This article first appeared in Dance Informa in February, 2016.
Nakotah LaRance freestyles along a sidewalk. He is gliding, popping and waving — and spinning the hoops of a venerable medicine dance of his Native people. LaRance, a world champion hoop dancer and Cirque du Soleil performer, is presenting his captivating mash-up of hip hop and traditional hoop dance at the 2015 Santa Fe Indian Market, the world’s largest juried showcase for Native arts.
The 26-year-old from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, New Mexico, is lyrical and dazzling, laser-focused and relaxed, as he manipulates five 24-inch-diameter hoops. They become an eagle, a butterfly, a flower, a ladder representing life stages from infancy to old age and, finally, Earth’s globe. An electronics-plus-powwow-drum track from the group A Tribe Called Red drives the action. “Because A Tribe Called Red combines old and new, their music is perfect for this version of hoop dance,” says LaRance.
hoop dance
Nakotah LaRance, of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, exults as he hits the eagle figure in his world-championship hoop dance performance. Photograph by Marian Denipah.
His father, Steve LaRance, named his son’s creation Hip Hop Hoop. The traditional form is a healing ceremony that restores physical and emotional balance but so is the modern version. Steve says, “Just look at audiences and how happy they are when they see it. The dance has done that.”
The hoop dance establishment has given Nakotah its stamp of approval — eight stamps, to be precise. His first win at the Heard Museum’s World Championship Hoop Dance Contest in Phoenix was in 1994 in the tiny-tots division. He was just four years old. Succeeding years saw three youth and three teen titles, and an adult world championship in 2015.
Dance is central to Native culture, explains Steve. “It’s our connection to the ancestors and the earth, and the drum is its heartbeat,” he says. “The hoop represents the turning of the seasons and the circle of life. My family feels blessed to be able to bring our dancing to the world. Our traditions were repressed for so long, and many were nearly lost.”
He is referring to the century-long period during which Native people were prohibited from dancing and conducting their ceremonies. In the name of assimilation, their children were shipped to notoriously violent boarding schools, where they were starved, beaten and forbidden from expressing themselves in their own languages and arts. Many died. Others survived, along with the will to continue their heritage ways. By the 1970s, the boarding schools were closed down or turned over to the tribes. In 1978, Congress passed the Native American Religious Freedom Act, and Natives could dance and worship openly again.
Past horrors may help explain the sense of triumph in another edgy Indian Market show that Nakotah was part of in 2013. He and a group of young Natives owned the stage with fast-paced break and hoop dancing. With their joyous appetite for innovation, the performers owned more than that. They were in control — repatriating and reformulating their identity as they wished.
Zuni Pueblo
McKeffe Chapella, of Zuni Pueblo’s Anshe:kwe dance group, executes sinuous improvisations and war cries as he portrays a warrior going into battle. Photograph by Joseph Zummo.
Two years of touring with Cirque de Soleil’s Totem let Nakotah see the world and refine his technique. “As a dancer, you have to develop an eye for other forms that can be relevant to yours,” he says. “For me, it was martial arts, like kung fu and tai chi, that gave me both more clarity and more flow. They also help you empty your mind, so your body can really go.” He learned martial arts from other Cirque de Soleil performers. “They were so generous,” he shares. “You could just say, ‘Can you show me that?’”
After 2011, Nakotah moved from the circus’ touring company to its special-events department, which produces projects like the opening ceremonies for the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. “I missed home and our traditions,” Nakotah says of his decision. His sister ShanDien LaRance and friend Eric Hernandez joined Totem’s road company and created a duet version of the role Nakotah had originated.
Along the way, Nakotah has also appeared as an actor in Steven Spielberg’s Into the West and other movies. He stars in Geronimoa music video by electronic pop group The Knocks and Fred Falke. In the video, Nakotah dances in his pueblo home, then silhouetted against the desert sky.
Less touring means more time for Nakotah to teach children’s hoop dance classes. Some day — “after my knees give out,” he says — he’ll do even more of this. Being at home also lets him take part in his community’s traditional life. In performance, Nakotah may astonish onlookers, but when participating in ceremonies, he submerses himself in the ancient round. He becomes, says dad Steve, “just one of the dancers”.
To find Nakotah’s appearances, go to his Facebook page. Heads up, fans: This month, he’ll defend his world title at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.
More Native Originals:
#1. At the very traditional Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico, the dance group Anshe:kwe innovates within a heritage framework while creating dances for performances at home and around the country. Choreography is a collaborative process. “We sit down and brainstorm,” group leader and musician Serfino Cachini tells me after a rehearsal. “A group member or I will show a movement; we’ll all try it out, work with it, then decide together if it looks good or not.” The troupe practices daily and goes over everything collectively — from the steps to the music to the elaborate regalia.
The dance I saw at Zuni contrasted elegant, airy unison footwork for a corps of women with sinuous, grounded solo improvisations for the men. The improvisatory element emphasized a central aspect of the male roles. “We’re portraying warriors,” says dancer McKeffe Chapella, “and when warriors go into battle, they have to improvise.”
To see a vivid community event and great examples of the light upward accent typical of much Native American dance — literally, stepping lightly on the Earth — watch Anshe:kwe and sister troupe Soaring Eagle appearing together at Zuni Pueblo. To find their performances, Facebook-message Bino Cachini, Arlen Quetawki or Tammy Weebothee. For additional information, contact the Zuni Visitor Center.
Southern Buckskin dance style
The gracious Southern Buckskin dance style helped Cheyenne Brady win her Miss Indian World crown. Photograph by Brian Fraker, courtesy of Brady.
#2. The graceful Southern Buckskin dance style helped Cheyenne Brady become Miss Indian World 2015. The title is bestowed during a pageant that takes place during the Gathering of Nations powwow in Albuquerque. The huge annual powwow attracts thousands of members of more than 700 U.S. and Canadian tribes. For the dance portion of the pageant, Brady wore a richly beaded deer-hide dress and accessories. Her measured, regal steps caused the floor-length fringes of her sleeves to swing rhythmically in opposition, one forward and one back, as though stirred by a breeze.
Because South Buckskin is a very old style, the range of modifications that are allowed the dancer is narrow, Brady says. Creative expression occurs instead in her choices for the beadwork colors and designs. “My dress is a mix of old and new, in that it combines traditional Cheyenne designs with shiny modern beads,” she says. 
Nowadays, according to Brady, some Native dance regalia has gotten extremely colorful, including even the brightest neon-type hues. “That is mainly an option for more modern styles, like Fancy Shawl, which is maybe a century or so old,” she explains.
Since winning her crown, the Sac and Fox tribal member has traveled countrywide as an indigenous role model and advocate for Native language and cultural preservation. She has started her master’s degree in American Indian Public Health at the University of North Dakota, and her accomplishments have been read into the Congressional Register. It’s been a whirlwind. 
“In quick succession, I got accepted to grad school, got crowned, took my senior-year finals and spoke at Generation Indigenous, a White House gathering to honor Native youth,” Brady recalls. 
For more on Brady’s appearances, see her Gathering of Nations blog.
C. Stephanie Woodard; thanks to Dance Informa; photo at top c. Joseph Zummo.