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‘Water does have a memory’: Indigenous lecturer stresses importance of conservation

Updated February 24, 2024 - 6:53 pm

Looking out at a crowd of about 150, Melanie Smokey grinned as she told the story of her upbringing with Native American elders to a captive audience.

Smokey, who is of Western Shoshone and Washoe descent, argues the water we use every day is a resource worth saving.

“Water does have a memory,” she said. “It does have emotions and feelings, and we know that because it comes out of us.”

She was the first lecturer in the Nuwu Pasats Speakers Series, where members of Nevada’s indigenous tribes will discuss the importance of natural resources. The series leads up to the opening of a new garden at the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas in the fall, where staff will grow native plants and describe their value to local tribes.

Throughout the talk, Smokey shared different cultural traditions related to water and the land, such as the importance of willow plants used in traditional basket-weaving. Smokey’s grandparents, Art and Alice Hooper, were instrumental in establishing the reservation for the Yomba Shoshone Tribe in Nye County.

As tribal elders age and die off, it can be a challenge for those who belong to lesser-known tribes to make sure the language and culture doesn’t die with them, Smokey said.

“Our people pray this forward with tears, even. Their sacred water praying for all of us to be here today,” she said. “One day, like these willows, you can be formed into something good.”

Preserving the Southern Paiute culture

Before the lecture, Springs Preserve archaeologist Ian Ford-Terry led nearly 60 people on a walking tour of the botanical gardens where staff are beginning to grow seeds for the new garden with the help of the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Not only will the garden help bolster native plants in the valley, but there are efforts underway to make the garden a historical site that will feature audio clips of the native language, thanks to the help of a group of Southern Paiutes.

Native American culture and native plants coming together at the garden will hopefully make the Southern Paiutes more visible, he said.

“That’s one of the reasons why we’re really focusing on those plants,” Ford-Terry said. “They can teach us about how to live better in a balanced way.”

Kenny Anderson, the Las Vegas Paiute Tribal Council’s cultural committee chairman who is leading the language preservation effort, said he’s thrilled to see so much interest in preserving the culture of the Southern Paiutes, who don’t have a recognized historical footprint in Las Vegas.

“To me, it’s a good thing that we’re going to try to help people understand the history of the Paiutes of this area and learn how they survived,” Anderson said.

Contact Alan at ahalaly@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlanHalaly on Twitter.

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