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Gathering for Our Mountains Brings Tribes and Federal Agencies Together

By Jeremy Spoon, Portland State University, and Richard Arnold, Pahrump Paiute Tribe

Nuwuvi or Nuwu (Southern Paiute), Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Portland State University, and The Mountain Institute participants in the ninth annual Gathering for Our Mountains event.

On September 13-15, 2019, more than 150 representatives from the Nuwu/Nuwuvi (Southern Paiute) Nation, U.S. Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, State agencies and other community partners gathered at the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (SMNRA) located in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Tribes gathered for three days and two nights to reconnect with their place of creation to share language, beliefs, culture, stories, and traditional songs to perpetuate their ancient culture. This ninth annual Gathering for Our Mountains event was co-sponsored by several federal agencies, tribes, and partners, with co-facilitation by Jeremy Spoon and Richard Arnold along with several students and interns from Portland State University and The Mountain Institute.

Facilitators discuss event logistics at the orientation.

Multiple generations of Nuwu/Nuwuvi (meaning ‘the people’) united in partnership with other attendees for inter-cultural exchange. The mutual learning experience builds tribal capacity and restores balance to the land by blending traditional knowledge with a complex understanding of indigenous homelands now co-managed by federal agencies and Nuwu/Nuwuvi. The ancestral territory spans four states including Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and California. The Spring Mountains and other related nearby areas are integral components of Nuwu/Nuwuvi creation. Tradition states that when the world was new, the Creator placed Nuwu/Nuwuvi in their homelands and charged them with always caring for the land with great reverence in culturally appropriate ways. This strong environmental relationship requires sustained interaction to keep the land in balance for future generations. Nuwu/Nuwuvi know all plants, animals, rocks, water, air and other natural elements are sentient beings or relatives. As such, the land and Nuwu/Nuwuvi are inseparable to remain healthy.

Nuwuvi elders share information on medicinal and food plants.
Forest Service environmental educator sharing knowledge with Nuwuvi youth.

The annual event attracts Nuwu/Nuwuvi from surrounding states and creates new pathways for perpetuating culture and enhancing communication among federal agencies and the tribes. This year, multiple generations renewed familial ties and made connections with old and new acquaintances. Attendees exchanged knowledge about the culture, language and interacting with the land along with engaging in interactive discussions, such as demonstrations on preparing medicinal and food plants and creating rabbit skin blankets. Tribal leadership included Tribal Chairpersons and Council Members from Nuwuvi tribes along with the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the State of Nevada Indian Commission. An evaluation of the event indicated attendees identified enjoying reuniting with family and friends, learning about Nuwu/Nuwuvi culture, and building relationships with federal partners as their top priorities.

Nuwuvi youth learning together.
Back of 2019 event t-shirt. The word cloud shares the results from a question on the 2018 event evaluation and dedicates the event to an elder who recently passed.

The event is part of a larger collaboration between Nuwu/Nuwuvi, the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service within the Nuwu/Nuwuvi ancestral territory. These efforts include bi-annual meetings, collaborative stewardship projects, and public education or interpretative information. Projects have included progressive interactions in siting, architecture, research, design and engineering, media and art in four visitor centers, trails, campgrounds, and picnic areas, which opened in 2014 and 2015. Additional interpretive and stewardship projects are on-going.

Participants shared communal meals throughout the event.

More than 30 undergraduate and graduate students and interns have participated in these efforts, including eight completed and on-going Masters projects. Examples of graduate student projects include a best practice syntheses on collaborative stewardship of federal/indigenous ancestral lands, tribal engagement with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to help tribes and federal agencies reach progressive solutions, and integrating the indigenous voice into place-based interpretation.

In March 2019, this collaboration was awarded the Robert A and Beverly H. Hackenberg Prize by the Society for Applied Anthropology, which recognizes collaborative work with community partners (see

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