Wašišiw: "The People From Here"

This is an ongoing documentary project started in 2021.

For thousands of years before "contact," the Wasiw (wa-shoe) people thrived in Da ow aga (Lake Tahoe) and the immediate surrounding areas. They lived in the valleys during the harsh winters, subsiding on pine nuts and meats gathered during the fall. In the spring, the three bands of Wasiw rendezvoused at Da ow aga for games and fish festivals. The Maker created them here, and they lived in a mutually respectful relationship with the land.

Everything changed when gold and silver were discovered in California and Nevada in the mid-19th century. The influx of settlers rapidly depleted the Wasiw food sources, resulting in conflicts for resources. Seeing the Wasiw as an obstacle to progress, Indian agents attempted multiple relocation efforts. But the Wasiw, who believe that the Maker created them here for a reason, would not leave. They were confined to small colonies in the valleys and forced to assimilate the settlers' ways.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and the main economic driver in the region is tourism. The hills are no longer stripped for lumber and minerals. But the damage has been done, and the scarring remains. Crowds of tourists trample the plants that the Wasiw use for food and medicine. Litter - intentional and unintentional - covers the sacred ground and ends up in the lake. ʔImgi (Lahontan Cutthroat Trout), the center of the Wasiw fish festivals, disappeared shortly after settlers "discovered" the fish and began shipping them to Reno and San Francisco, replacing them with non-native fish that have contributed to a significant decline in the famous water clarity. A hundred years of forest mismanagement has resulted in charred mountains and smoke-filled summer skies.

A renewed interest in Wasiw culture among the Wasiw themselves aims to address much of this damage. After decades of negotiation, the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California has been granted stewardship of Meeks Meadow. This abandoned lumber & cattle ranch is known as Máyala Wáta to the Wasiw and is one of the most culturally significant sites around the lake. It is their "Garden of Eden," to put it in a way that Christians would understand. In addition to restoring the meadow to a state their ancestors knew, they will restart "cultural burns," which help prevent the massive out-of-control fires we see today. A multi-agency effort is also working to restore Meeks Bay and reintroduce Lahontan Cutthroat Trout into Lake Tahoe.

Can Lake Tahoe - Da ow aga - be saved and preserved for the life and enjoyment of future generations? I believe so. But it's going to be the shared responsibility of everyone, led by the original stewards of this beautiful area, the Wašišiw - which literally means "the people from here."

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