Great Basin Tribes celebrate important new laws

Pictured: Beneath a statue of the revered Native American educator Sarah Winnemucca, Tribal leaders, elders and military veterans from throughout the Great Basin celebrate a bill become a law which will strengthen Tribal sovereignty and create policies that promote collaboration and positive government-to-government relations between Nevada State agencies and Tribes.(Photo: Stacey Montooth).

Historic legislation impacting Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Nevada Tribes highlighted in ceremony

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Reno-Sparks Indian Colony

Seventeen Tribal leaders, elders and military veterans from throughout the Great Basin witnessed a bill become a law which will strengthen Tribal sovereignty and create policies that promote collaboration and positive government-to-government relations between state agencies and Tribes. Signed by Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, the new law is patterned after a New Mexico consultation bill that Native Americans enjoy with state officials and agencies.

“I can’t remember a session of the Nevada Legislature that has been so supportive of Tribal interests,” said Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Chairman Arlan D. Melendez, who has held office for nearly 27 years. “During this 80th session, we have had senators and assemblymen and women of their own volition incorporate language into various measures to include Tribal representation.” 

Besides the Colony, at least one representative from the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, the Yerington Paiute Tribe, the Walker River Paiute Nation, the South Fork Band, the Ft. McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, and the Duck Valley Shoshone-Paiute Tribe, Stewart Indian School alumni and staff, plus Nevada lawmakers gathered in governor’s office for the ceremony this morning. 

“We look forward to building a partnership with the State, and collaborating on ideas that will help sustain our Tribes and pave the way for the next seven generations,” said Amber Torres, Chairwoman of the Walker River Paiute Nation. “I cannot wait to see what we achieve with Governor Steve Sisolak’s administration.”

AB264 or the Collaboration Act, was just one of eight bills which highlighted one of the most successful legislative session in the history of Nevada. 

“All these important bills would not have made it to Governor Sisolak’s desk without the strong vision and leadership of our Tribal and elected state leaders,” Chairman Melendez said. 

Accordingly, Nevada Assemblywoman Sara Peters and Senator Melanie Scheible sponsored the new law which codifies what the relationship between Tribes and Nevada State agencies should be.   

“AB264 creates transparency and accountability, and it enables the Nevada Indian Commission to take steps to ensure that there is appropriate training and mechanisms for maintaining these relationships,” Peters said during hearings on the bill.

Other new laws which will resonate through Indian Country in the Great Basin include:

  • AB44 which officially creates the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum.
  • AB393 which creates protection for Tribes during a Federal Government shutdown.
  • SB182 which confers powers of a peace officer for some law enforcement relating to Tribes.
  • AB137 which revises provisions for state and county election activities on Tribal Lands, so that once established, Tribes do not have to re-request reservation polling stations.
  • AB71 allows the state attorney general to develop agreements with Tribes for grants and loan disaster relief.
  • SB67 establishes the Nevada Tribal Emergency Coordinating Council.
  • AB152 protects cultural properties and increases penalties for destroying cultural resources.
  • SB366 which establishes provisions relating to dental therapy.

“The need for more sustainable access to dental care in Tribal Nevada is great, and the potential cost saving realized by utilizing a dental therapist services will be an important component in providing better dental services to our community, said Alan Mandell, Vice Chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. “Our leadership is confident that the new legislation will empower Tribes to tackle our own oral health challenges, plus put our own people to work in areas that habitually have been difficult to recruit and retain quality, culturally competent staff.”

The state of Nevada includes 20 federally recognized Tribes comprised of 27 tribal communities. Nevada’s Indian Territory is home to four major Tribes: Northern Paiute, Southern Paiute, Shoshone and Washoe.

Early in his campaign to become the Silver State’s first democrat governor in two decades, Sisolak, committed to respect Tribes’ sovereignty and to empower Tribes by respecting Tribal-Federal communication and decision-making without intervention, yet with the collaboration and support of state government when that is beneficial to the Tribes’ objective.

“Many of these bills were crafted to include the needs and values of our communities,” Chairman Melendez said. “Notably, these provisions were offered by the legislators of their own accord.”

Assemblywoman Peters also recognized that changing dynamic. 

“One of the things we have seen over the last five or so years is a resurgence of power from our Tribal governments, and it is appropriate,” Assemblywoman Peters said. “It is necessary that Tribes engage and take their power back in a way that ensures their members and their culture exists in perpetuity.”

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