WASHOE HOMELAND, Nev. - With more than 70 percent of the vote, Chairman Brian Wallace was re-elected to his fourth four-year term as chairman of the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada on Oct. 19. (Official numbers were not available by press time.)
Wallace beat five other candidates in the race including Alfred Granados, Benny Mills, Steven Dexter, Joseph Art Sam and Kathy Wyatt by almost double the votes. Results of the election were considered unofficial until after a five-day waiting period.
Wallace has led the tribe for twelve years and is widely respected for his leadership and vision that has focused on repatriation of Washoe homelands, culture and language preservation, education, economic development and youth.
Nation-building is his top priority, a concept that encompasses all aspects of tribal governance with emphasis on rebuilding the tradition tools and relationships that have enabled the Washoe Nation to survive everything from genocide to the outright theft of their most sacred place, Lake Tahoe.
"History is more about place than it is about time," Wallace said. "We are engaged in a cultural and biological repatriation of Wa Shi Shiw (Washoe) homelands to strengthen the survival principles we've always relied upon to get us across the dark waters of history."
As a people who were driven from their homelands by settlers and miners seeking gold, silver, land and timber, the Washoe survived starvation, disease and the decimation of their tribe. They were reduced in number to only 500 people by 1860.
Traditional Washoe territory once encompassed more than 1.5 million acres of mountains and fertile valleys in the Sierra Nevada that later became part of California and Nevada. But things changed dramatically after the discovery of gold and silver.
Thousands of miners and merchants arrived seeking gold and new frontiers, followed by land developers seeking to exploit the abundant natural resources surrounding one of the most spectacular alpine lakes in the world, Lake Tahoe or Da ow a ga, meaning "edge of the lake."
According to Washoe traditional teachings, the clear waters of the lake breathe life into the land, the plants and animals, even the people themselves. In the Washoe worldview, it is considered the center of their world.
Over the past six years, Wallace led a successful campaign to regain a portion of Lake Tahoe shoreline and adjacent forest for traditional and cultural use at Meeks Bay on the west shore of the lake. In all, the tribe has recovered some 72,500 acres of homelands.
He was also instrumental in protecting Cave Rock and other sacred sites from further desecration. His efforts toward stewardship of the land using Washoe environmental ethics has resulted in a range of resource management projects including the cultivation of traditional plants and medicines and protections for bears and their habitat.
Wallace said his people are trying to reclaim the ability to pass on traditional knowledge and a way of life that honors the natural world. It is critical, he said, to concentrate on the goal of raising a generation of children who are equipped for every emergency and know their language, spiritual relationships and survival tools.
"We want to raise a generation of young warriors committed to strengthening the tribe and honoring our values for stewardship to the land," he said. "We want them to grow up in a world where emphasis is placed on responsibility, rather than rights. We just have to create the right environment for that to happen.
"A large part of that is in language preservation so they understand the ethical base and underlying order of the natural world, and that can only be interpreted in Washoe," he said, noting the tribe has run a language immersion school for six years.
For Wallace, the next four years are about commitment to the elders and children and to the Washoe national objectives of language and land recovery, cultural and biological wellness for his people and maintaining the tools to survive.
"In order to push that national objective forward, we're going to have to retool in a lot of different ways to remove all the bad substitutes we've picked up that have replaced our traditional survival skills. Everything from diet to wellness to parenting to how we prepare for manhood and womanhood - there's a historic recovery going on."