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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 3, 2003 - Issue 86


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Paiutes are Developing Their Land and Rediscovering Their Heritage

by By Tim Sullivan - The Salt Lake Tribune
credits: photo - TWEAKING THE REF is not a foul during halftime of the Paiute Classic Basketball Tournament in Cedar City, which follows the tribe's Restoration Day each April. Getting cheeky is David Bushhead; the referee is Robert Langston. (Al Hartmann/The Salt Lake Tribune)

TWEAKING THE REF is not a foul during halftime of the Paiute Classic Basketball Tournament in Cedar City, which follows the tribe's Restoration Day each April. Getting cheeky is David Bushhead; the referee is Robert Langston. (Al Hartmann/The Salt Lake Tribune) At the Indian Peaks Paiute Reservation, a square of rippled, juniper-covered slope in western Beaver County, it is Restoration Day.

On April 3, 1980, the U.S. government reinstated the Utah Paiutes as an official tribe after having dropped them 26 years earlier. Among the restored was the tribe's Indian Peaks Band, whose ancestors lived in cedar houses scattered over this remote range where they farmed potatoes, turnips and wheat.

But there is no one here today.

"We used to celebrate, but the weather was always bad," says Travis Parashonts, the Paiutes' economic development director. Wearing a yellow fleece embroidered with "Paiute Tribe," his ponytail tucked under a Cleveland Indians baseball cap rimmed with red, blue, white and black beadwork, Parashonts sits in a burger joint 70 miles away in Cedar City, home of the tribe's headquarters. In lieu of a powwow or dinner, the tribe has simply given its employees the day off. True to Parashonts' word, the skies outside have whitened, producing a momentary blizzard. "Now," he says, "we wait until June."

The displacement of one of the Paiutes' most important holidays is strangely appropriate -- there is not much among them that hasn't been removed, put back and removed again.

While history has taken its toll -- shifting federal policies have left the tribe's bands, families and scraps of undeveloped land scattered all over southwestern Utah -- the state's Paiutes remain resilient. The tribe has asserted itself in the past five years as a cohesive force, with young leaders (most elders have died), housing, health and youth projects and an effort to hold on to its identity.

In the 1860s, the U.S. government tried to lure the tribe -- whose ancestral homeland stretches from the Grand Canyon to Nephi and from Blanding to Ely, Nev. -- to the Ute Reservation in eastern Utah. When few Paiutes moved there, the government tried the same thing on a new reservation in southern Nevada with a similar result. The government then created separate reservations for Utah's Paiutes, but in 1954 "terminated" the tribe -- withdrawing financial assistance and reservation status of the land -- in an attempt to meld several American Indian tribes into mainstream society.

Finally, in 1980, after decades of increasing poverty and nine hard years of lobbying, a core group of Paiutes won back recognition from Congress, allowing the tribe access to housing funds and social services while re-creating its reservations.

In the meantime, the U.S. government had taken many of the children of the termination era from their families and placed them in Anglo foster homes, helping erase the Paiutes' language and culture.

"We had to depend on our grandmas, but we don't have any more grandmas," says Cyndi Charles, chairwoman of the tribe's Koosharem Band, who was removed from her family and placed with a white family in Morgan. "I don't have anyone else to send my son to."

Now, Charles and others placed in foster families have returned home to take tribal leadership, contributing to a broader Paiute revitalization.

The tribe also has grown. In 1980, its membership was around 490 and it was losing three members for every new one, Parashonts says. Now, the rolls show 816. At this month's tribal council meeting, the council approved four new members.

And the culture of past generations is coming back like memory after amnesia. For four years, the tribe ran a language school for kids and adults who spoke only English. Elders also conducted workshops on Paiute crafts, such as baskets and cradle boards.

"I've even made a cradle," says tribal chairwoman Lora Tom with a hearty laugh. Originally from Brigham City, Tom worked in the tribe's health department for 10 years before she was elected chairwoman 2 1/2 years ago. She succeeded Parashonts, Alex O. Shepherd and the late Geneal Anderson, a key figure in restoring the tribe who served as chairwoman for the majority of the new tribe's first two decades.

Paiutes today face perhaps more identity challenges than other tribes. They are organized in five bands -- Shivwits, Cedar, Kanosh, Koosharem and Indian Peaks. Each band has its own council and has autonomy over its reservations, but most Paiute services are administered through the tribe.

Often the lines between tribe, band and family are unclear. Many members have a parent from another tribe or a spouse from another band and have to decide where to register their children. Indeed, for many who have joined the rolls since 1980, being Paiute is a choice.

Reclaiming an identity: Like footprints in the red Dixie sand, the Paiutes' recent history of displacement and assertion is visible in the lives of their leaders. For Glenn Rogers, the Shivwits Band's chairman, it has been a rough path.

A full-blooded Shivwits Paiute, Rogers grew up in Enterprise and spent much of his summers at the Shivwits reservation in the lava fields east of St. George. Back then, the only structures on the land were shacks without electricity or plumbing.

As a kid, Rogers partied, drank and did drugs, bouncing from Enterprise to the Kaibab Paiute Reservation in Fredonia, Ariz., to Cedar City. But after he went to rehab and cleaned up, he became curious about tribal affairs. He became a regular in the back benches during band meetings. He won a council seat and four years later, in 1997, was elected band chairman.

When he took that post, Rogers says, he "stepped into a lot of trouble." The Shivwits were in the middle of a difficult bargaining process with the city of St. George to procure water rights for the reservation so the band could continue replacing the shacks on its land with sturdy brick homes.

Sometimes, the pressure became too much for Rogers, and he considered resigning. But he found help in unlikely places. As a baptized Mormon, Rogers' church activity was sporadic. But he found that getting to know Anglos through church gave him patience and observation skills. He became confident as a Paiute liaison, and the band got its water.

Though he says the Shivwits still feel condescension from St. George Anglos, Rogers is comfortable moving through both worlds. The tribe recently helped the Bureau of Land Management put on a show at the Shivwits headquarters called "Paiute Origins of Life," and dozens of white St. George residents came to see it. Rogers is proud of his ancestry.

"Our identity is in our beliefs," he says. "In the animals, the plants and the old people -- how did they exist? They existed the way we do today, with the water. I stand for them."

Standing for ancestors often means holding on to their land, as small, uninhabited and undeveloped as the reservations are.

"It becomes something personal to you," Parashonts says. "It gives you a sense of pride and a sense of belonging."

This is perhaps most true for the Indian Peaks Band, the tribe's smallest, which has no building or significant revenue source among its 38 members. But the band -- "One big family," as Indian Peaks Chairwoman Anthonia Tom says -- holds its land close.

"It's our heritage, it's our past. It's a place for us," Tom says of her band's remote reservation. The band journeys there once or twice a year, in spring or late fall, in part as an homage to its ancestors. There is a cemetery in the scrub forest, and a rock that is supposed to cure headaches.

And in the northern reaches of Paiute country, seven miles off Interstate 15 just south of Fillmore, the Kanosh Band is trying to buy 734 acres of aboriginal land. It was part of the original Kanosh reservation, but the tribe lost it when it was terminated. Phil Pikyavit, the Kanosh chairman, points to a faded photograph titled "Kanosh Indian Camp, circa 1860" that shows a line of Paiutes backed by tepees, huts and the same mountain visible out the band building's back window.

"I've had my eye on it," says Pikyavit, a retired Utah Department of Transportation road worker, "ever since we lost it."

Community economics: As with other Utah tribes, the Paiutes have high unemployment and low median household income, at 17 percent and $10,800, respectively. Most tribal members eke out jobs in construction and the motel industry, Parashonts says. And as he points out, the Paiutes are further disadvantaged by their lack of a large land base with coal, oil or timber reserves.

But development is happening slowly. It began with the construction of a large headquarters building in Cedar City six years ago and radiated outward to housing and water systems.

The Cedar Band is one of the most aggressive in pursuing economic development. Recently, it created its own tech company, Suh'dutsing Technologies, which could create up to 55 jobs. The band is studying the feasibility of a golf course and trying to attract a developer for a convenience store or a truck stop.

The band has built six houses on its land south of Cedar City. Delice Tom, a convenience store worker originally from Nevada, recently moved into one of them. "I wanted to be closer to my grandkids. Now they can walk over," says Tom, adding that she knows more Cedar Band people who want to move to the neighborhood.

"Our band, we are so close," Tom says. "We're somewhat scattered, but the communication is real good."

That affinity is reinforced on a tribal level each April, a week after Restoration Day, when the Paiute Classic Basketball Tournament pulls in Paiutes from all over southern Utah, Nevada, Salt Lake City and beyond. Pitting 11 all-Paiute teams against one another in the tribal gym -- whose Paiute logo at center court hints at the import of basketball -- the two-day event is a sort of powwow with hard fouls.

It is a time to cheer relatives and heckle their opponents. Outside the gym, groups of teenagers huddle around pickup trucks and lone elders are welcomed into bleacher picnics inside. The tournament is an annual reunion for Loujeanne Charles and her four sisters, who live in Cedar City, Richfield and Salt Lake. Charles' son and nephew play for the Cedar Band's team and she knows everyone on the team as well as most of their opponents.

"I don't see them all that often," she says before screaming, "Go Blue! Go Blue! Come on, get the rebound!"

For the kids on the teams, who are often a small minority at their public schools, it's a chance to nourish tribal friendships. "It's fun to play against people you know," says Benny Wero Jr., a sharp-shooting 15-year-old Paiute-Ute with a waist-length ponytail that he grew for powwows.

Glenn Rogers is here, too. He is a senior member of the Shivwits team called "Sham City," the Shivwits Reservation's nickname, and takes the court with teenagers. He hustles up and down and shanks a few free throws. When the game is over, he stays in the bleachers to cheer on other teams.

For Rogers, the basketball tournament is good times, but the real challenge starts when it comes time to venture outside the gym.

"I want people to understand who we are," he says, sitting in his band building as dusk descends on Sham City. "I want people to know we're just doing our best to survive."

Indian Peaks Indian Reservation, NV Map

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