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Washoe return signed and delivered

Patrick McCartney

Storm clouds rolled over the Sierra Nevada Wednesday, as Brian Wallace of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California prepared to sign an agreement that would return the Washoe to the Tahoe Basin after more than a century.

Then, as Wallace and Forest Supervisor Juan Palma of the U.S. Forest Service signed the agreement, a rainbow appeared over the West Shore.

Meeks Bay, where the Washoe camped for generations before Europeans arrived and displaced them, appeared to be at the end of the rainbow.

The melodramatic flourish seemed appropriate for the historic occasion, when the Washoe regained control of 350 acres of lush meadow near Meeks Bay, and a smaller parcel near Taylor Creek.

“Lake Tahoe is an important part of our lives and hearts,” said Wallace, who is the chairman of the Washoe Tribe. “The most important thing will be to see our children laugh and play freely here, and the hearts of our elders finally at peace.”

As soon as next summer, the Washoe will begin work on a $2.1 million cultural center at Taylor Creek, where the tribe’s cultural history and relationship to Lake Tahoe will be exhibited to the public.

Initially, work will proceed to restore the damaged stream course, the site of a former borrow pit. Once the environmental documents are completed, the tribe will begin construction on the 4,500 square-foot cultural center.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary Dan Glickman announced that the federal government will pay for a study of Cave Rock, which the Washoe regard as Lake Tahoe’s most sacred site.

Wallace said he hopes the study will be helpful in preparing a long-term management plan of the Cave Rock area that involves all significant interests.

“We would hope that we’d be able to certify the cultural and traditional value of that site to be respected by the institutions of the basin and by the general public,” Wallace said.

The agreement signed Wednesday is a special-use permit that gives the Washoe control over the Meeks Meadow and Taylor Creek sites for five years. Before then, the Washoe and Forest Service expect to conclude a long-term agreement that extends their supervision of the land.

The Washoe were Lake Tahoe’s first inhabitants, but they were pushed off the land by Europeans who settled in the basin following the discovery of the Comstock Lode 20 miles to the east. Washoe clans would spend their summers at Lake Tahoe, and return to the Carson Valley in the fall.

Over the last 120 years, the Washoe had appealed to a succession of U.S. presidents for a return to the Tahoe Basin. Their appeal was finally answered at the Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum in July, when President Clinton announced the agreement that was concluded Wednesday.


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