Need Climate Change Evidence? A Western Shoshone Basketmaker Has It

“Culture means learning from each other and sharing,” Western Shoshone basketmaker Leah Brady tells me. Nowadays, it also means an intimate experience of climate change and pollution, as she weaves natural materials—willow, cedar, reeds and more—into baskets.

Brady’s Elko, Nevada, home showcases her award-winning work and that of other artisans—several generations of her family and additional makers from Northern Paiute, Goshute and other area tribes. The items' materials evoke the millennia-old relationship between Native people and their rugged desert and mountain homeland.

That world is changing in ways that Brady and other local crafts makers observe first-hand. She shows me how she creates willow-bark thread—biting down on one end of a willow branch to steady it and pulling off three narrow strips of bark. “If my mouth starts tingling, I know the willow has been sprayed with a pesticide or other chemical,” Brady says. “Some basketmakers report getting blisters in their mout…

Lead Poisoning for All! It's Not Just Flint Anymore

Once politicians promised a chicken in every pot. Not anymore. The Trump administration is promising Americans lead poisoning in every blood stream—human and animal. The nation has long banned lead in paint, water pipes and gasoline. Lead poisoning created tragic damage to human health and a national scandal in Flint, Michigan. How soon we forget.

As I recently reported in Rural America In These Times, on Ryan Zinke’s first day in office as Secretary of the Interior, he rescinded restrictions on use of lead-based ammunition and fishing-line sinkers on lands managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Though the restriction was limited (phasing out the toxin on just certain federal lands by 2022), the NRA predictably described it as “an attack on our hunting heritage.” It was also first put into effect by President Obama, all of whose legacy is under attack by the current administration—just because.

Each year, hunters and fishermen pump tens of thousands of tons of lead into the …

Kim Jong-un, the Nobel and the Western Shoshone

Kim Jong-un can relax! We’ve already nuked ourselves! A lot!

The Nobel Committee’s announcement that the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has received this year’s Peace Prize has thrown a spotlight on U.S. nuclear policy. Nearly 1,000 nuclear devices have been detonated above and below ground at the Nevada Test Site since it was established in 1951.

As I recently reported in Rural America In These Times, this makes the Western Shoshone, within whose treaty lands the site lies—and by extension, the rest of us—arguably the most bombed nation on earth. And now, the Trump administration wants to ramp up the radioactive poisons in the area.

In June, Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry suggested using the test site, now called the Nevada National Security Site, as an interim waste dump. At the same time, Perry would reopen licensing procedures for nearby Yucca Mountain, with a view toward making the mountain— revered as a sacred site by area tribes—the permane…

Flintknapping as a cultural and spiritual journey

This article first appeared in the magazine Indian Country in summer 2017. 
A Western Shoshone grandfather and grandson sit companionably, side by side, in canvas camp chairs. They are in a small valley buttressed by rolling hills covered with golden grasses and gray-green sagebrush. In the palm of the left hand, each holds a piece of rough black stone resting on a small leather pad and, in the right, a length of deer antler. 
More tribal members are camped around them, watching the pair work, chatting, cooking and preparing a sweat lodge. A jackrabbit hops by: “Breakfast,” someone says. Mule deer dash away toward distant mountains.
The valley is in the Tosawihi Complex, a dry, rugged landscape that covers scores of square miles in what is now northern Nevada. It is the heart of the traditional Western Shoshone homeland, where they have camped, hunted, gathered and participated in ceremonies for millennia. Northern Paiutes and members of other tribes revere the area as well.
The grandfat…

After the Fire: Tribe Repatriates Thousands of Acres of Sacred Sites

Joe Holley assesses native-plant population in sacred site.
“It’s done,” said Lydia Johnson, chairwoman of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone, shown below right. “The papers are signed, and the land is ours.” It was the late afternoon of August 17, and Johnson had just returned from meeting with attorneys and Klondex Mines, a gold-mining concern. The company had presented the Western Shoshone, a coalition of several tribes, with just over 3,200 acres of ancient sacred sites in the Nevada high desert. The gift stood out as a rare and shining moment in a history that has been, for Western Shoshones, much like that of other Native Americans—massacres, land loss and segregation on economically isolated reservations.

Looking exhausted and elated, Johnson said that day and the next were busy ones for her own tribe, the Battle Mountain Band, which she also chairs. Preparations were underway for an August 18
ceremony and feast to celebrate the land transfer. Some tribal members were cook…

Wildfire Sweeps Past Sacred Sites — The Story in Pictures

The pickup truck rocked over boulders and rolled through dips and rises in the rough dirt track, as we approached 3,200+ acres of ancient sacred sites, recently deeded to the Western Shoshone by the gold-mining company Klondex Mines. The northern Nevada landscape that photographer Joseph Zummo and I traversed, with Battle Mountain Band official Joseph Holley at the wheel, was a grim brown-black. A massive wildfire that swept through the high desert the previous month had left little more than charred tree trunks and tufts of grass to interrupt a view that ended in dark, distant mountains.

The sacred sites we were seeking—prayer circles, shrines and more—are at the heart of an even larger cultural landscape encompassing tens of thousands of acres. Archaeologists have dated artifacts indicating that Native people have camped and held ceremonies here for at least 14,000 years. Medicine man Reggie Sope, of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, dismisses that figure. “We arose there,” he said.

We …

Joseph Zummo Photo Wins NAJA Award

Joseph Zummo's photo of Puyallup tribe canoe practice in Puget Sound, in preparation for the annual multi-tribal canoe journey, just won an award from the Native American Journalists Association, of which he is an associate (non-Native) member. For Puyallups, it's about cooperation, caring and connection with the water. When Joe got this shot, he was in the support boat, which follows the canoe and assists when necessary.