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Tribal youth follow in snowshoe steps of ancestors at Tahoe

January 22, 2018

In this Jan. 2, 2018 photo, Ashlin Smokey, a member of the Washoe Tribe in northern Nevada, pauses during her first time out on snowshoes on the outskirts of Hope Valley, Calif., southwest of Lake Tahoe. She was among the youths who followed in the footsteps of their ancestors to traditional fishing grounds as part of a cultural program sponsored by the tribe during the winter break. (Claire Cudahy/The Tahoe Tribune via AP)

STATELINE, Nev. (AP) — Native American youths in northern Nevada did more than listen to lectures and read about the history of their ancestors during the winter break program run by the Washoe Tribe’s cultural department.

They strapped on snowshoes they crafted like tribal members did centuries ago and followed their footsteps through a valley south of Lake Tahoe to traditional fishing grounds.

The snowshoe outing was part of the program intended to help engage youth in activities rooted in the Washoe’s history, according to the Tahoe Daily Tribune .

“Snowshoeing is something that was a traditional activity for us during the wintertime and really a big part of our ability to survive and cross the Sierras and trade,” said Herman Fillmore, culture/language resources director for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.

“Today what we try to do a lot of is get our youth out on the land identifying different places and place names using the language, learning about the philosophy and the lay of the land,” he told the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

The Washoe called the lake “Da’aw.” It was the center of the tribe’s world spiritually and geographically. Tribe members spent summers at Lake Tahoe and the rest of the year moving around the lake’s basin and surrounding valleys to collect or hunt food like pine nuts, acorns, rabbits and other game.

Every winter for thousands of years, members of the Washoe Tribe trekked in their distinctively round snowshoes for several days through Hope Valley and across the Sierra Nevada to the American River along a trail called Peweceli Yewes (peh-weh-tseh-lee yeh-wesh). The salmon they collected from the American River was smoked for preservation and brought back to the rest of the tribe.

“I think getting back out to the land starts to prevent suicide, starts to overcome a lot of the health issues that plague even our children,” said Elizabeth Elliot, administrative assistant for the cultural department. “The programs and the work that the tribe as a whole does is keeping it going but we need more. We lose more kids to the criminal justice system, and we need to have more prevention.”

While many of the children choose to partake in the activities, some are mandated through the tribe’s juvenile probation program.

Paula Smith, juvenile probation officer for the Washoe Tribe, said the outdoor programming has made a huge difference in the lives of youth she works with.

“We are one of the only tribes in the state that has it,” Smith said. “When I started four years ago I had 24 kids now I have three because we’re doing stuff like this and learning about culture, tradition, and staying busy with positive activities.”

The snowshoe trek through Hope Valley was guided by another partner that also sees the importance of empowering the original inhabitants of the region: Hope Valley Outdoors.

John Dayberry, co-owner of the rental and guiding company, has aspirations to train Washoe youth to work as guides so they can share the history and native place names for the peaks and valleys of the region with visitors from around the world.

“What I want to do here is build a model for Indian tourism across the country so the framework that we have starts out with maps and reclaiming place names,” Dayberry said. “We need to let the Washoe people tell their story through their language”

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Information from: Tahoe Daily Tribune, http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/

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