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Washoe to return to Meeks Bay

Patrick McCartney

When they were children, Shirley Frank and Marie Kizer would visit Lake Tahoe with their Washoe relatives, spending the hours swimming and trout fishing.

The sisters would dress in traditional Washoe clothes and pose for photographs by tourists, who paid them 25 cents for their time.

Her grandmother, aunts and uncles would harvest berries and dig for roots in Meeks Meadow then, said Frank, now an elder in the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. All kinds of wild foods could be found.



But that was the old days, Frank said Tuesday.

“A lot of the homes and the customs are gone now,” she said after the U.S. Forest Service announced that the Washoe had received a 20-year permit to operate Meeks Bay Resort. “You can’t find the medicine plants anymore, unless you go high up in the mountains.”



That may change now, as the Washoe manage two tracts of national forest land, as well as operate Meeks Bay Resort.

After more than a century since European settler displaced the Washoe from their summer camps at Lake Tahoe, the long-neglected tribe has regained a foothold in the basin.

At the Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum last year, Vice President Al Gore announced an agreement between the Forest Service and Washoe that calls for the tribe to manage 400 acres of basin land for the next five years.

The agreement set aside 350 acres of Meeks Meadow for the Washoe to cultivate traditional plants, including the bracken ferns, whose rhizomes are highly prized for use in traditional Washoe basketry. The Washoe also received the use of 50 acres at Taylor Creek, including a stretch of shoreline, where the basin’s indigenous people are planning to build a public cultural center to showcase the Washoe history in the basin.

And now, the Meeks Bay Resort permit will give the Washoe a visible role in the Tahoe Basin visitors economy, and a location where its members can resume the traditional practice of summer camps.

To Brian Wallace, the Washoe chairman, the decision by the Forest Service to award the Meeks Bay Resort permit to the Washoe completes a long march by the tribe that has longed to return to Lake Tahoe.

“A hundred and eleven years ago, many people were predicting the extinction of the Washoe Tribe,” Wallace said. “Many believed there would never again be tracks made by the shoes of a Washoe person at Lake Tahoe. This means so many powerful things to us. It means being able to stand here where others have stood before, and others will again.”

Since 1862, the Washoe had appealed to a succession of U.S. presidents for territorial or other compensation for the land they lost. The tribe approached Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland and Warren Harding, among others.

When the Clinton administration planned its environmental summit at Lake Tahoe last year, officials included the Washoe in each of the public events associated with the forum. Then, the administration formally granted the Washoe’s request for a piece of Lake Tahoe.

“When Clinton came to Lake Tahoe, it was a surprise and gave me a happy feeling,” Frank said. “It meant that we get to use the lake for a change, instead of running into all these places that had gates. But it doesn’t feel real to me yet.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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