You would think they'd have more in common.
Native Americans representing tribes from throughout the region gathered Wednesday at the Springs Preserve, the Southern Nevada Water Authority's handsome monument to conservation and our collective history. At the Springs Preserve, creators have taken pains to include the important presence of Indian culture to Southern Nevada. Stroll the grounds awhile and take in the exhibits, and you'll start to think we're all in this together.
You'd be wrong.
Listen to the tribal leaders, and you'll quickly learn that the potential for finding common ground has eroded.
The tribal representatives weren't at the Springs Preserve for a tour or to take their places in a museum still life.
More than 30 packed into a meeting room to tell reporters their concerns about the proposed pipeline project that would pump billions of gallons of water from rural Nevada to the theoretically parched Las Vegas Valley.
Unlike some skeptics who crunch the astronomical numbers being floated and come away dizzy, members of the Goshute, Paiute, Shoshone and Chemehuevi tribes aren't obsessed with the project's worst-case scenario, $15 billion price tag or the argument that it's being rammed through politically at the expense of common sense.
These are people of the arid land.
All the Native Americans in this region have done for centuries is find creative ways to survive in one of driest places in the hemisphere. You would think the experts would want to hear what they have to say about the subject of water use. For these people, conservation isn't an academic concept or marketing slogan: It's an integral part of who they are.
So when Ed Naranjo, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, told reporters, "The federal government has not, and is not authentically involving the tribes," he was speaking about what he suspects is really going on with the politics of the pipeline. "One meeting before the final EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) does not constitute a government-to-government consultation, not even close. We are being ignored, and we are tired of it. I know this is an old story - the Indians are being told what's best for them - but this time it's different."
I'm not so sure. History is riddled with examples of the scattering and steamrolling of Native Americans. In this case, they say they're being ignored. The best they could manage was a brief meeting with functionaries of the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs despite their grave concerns about the potential ruination of water sources and historically significant lands.
That is, lands that mean something to the people who came first.
"We oppose the SNWA pipeline project because it will cause permanent environmental damage to tribal aboriginal lands and will destroy tribal sacred sites including the Swamp Cedars Massacre site," Naranjo said.
Lori Bear of the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes added, "It will affect future generations. That area's going to be dry, dry of water. It's very personal to us. Look at alternatives. Don't take our water from us."
Deanna Domingo of the Moapa Band of Paiute warned that changing the water could also change the wildlife habitats and the vegetation, including the plants that have been used medicinally by her people for generations.
When Bear, Domingo and Utah Paiute tribal member Jeanine Borchardt spoke of the future, they were thinking about seven generations.
That's what I call long-range planning.
As the news conference broke up, another irony ripened: The pipeline controversy has managed to bring together widely disparate groups in a collective cause of action. When ranchers, Native Americans, business owners and environmentalists are standing in solidarity, something historic is happening.
At last, the cowboys and Indians have something in common.
John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@review journal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.