Explore the Native American impact on Reno/Tahoe.

By Annie Flanzraich

Nevada Day Parade (Visit Carson City)
Nevada Day Parade (Visit Carson City)

For the past 10,000 years, indigenous people have inhabited the Great Basin area and shaped its history and culture. In the Reno/Tahoe region, the Washoe and Northern Paiute tribes are an active and integral part of the community.

According to tribal history, the Washoe have inhabited the region since time began. The word “Tahoe” actually is a mispronunciation of the Washoe word for “da ow,” which means “the lake.” Tahoe continues to be a sacred place for the tribe. Each year, tribal members gather at the lake’s edge to bless the water and themselves. One of the Washoe’s most revered sites is Cave Rock on the southwestern shore. Likewise, the Northern Paiutes are deeply grounded in their environment, as evident by the names of different bands. For example, members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe are called Kuyuidokado, or people who eat Cui-ui, after the Cui-ui fish, which is only found in Pyramid Lake.

There are many ways to explore Native American history and culture while you’re here. Let’s take a peek at some museums and attractions where you can learn more about the region’s indigenous people.

Lake to the past

About an hour’s drive north of Reno is Pyramid Lake, the largest remaining body of water that was once part of the ancient Lake Lahontan that covered most of northern Nevada. Located on the Paiute Indian Tribe reservation, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitor Center is an ideal location to visit to learn more about the lake’s fascinating history and its native inhabitants. Exhibits at the multi-purpose museum explore the tribe’s history, culture and offer insight into the importance of the lake and its surrounding landscape to the Paiute people.

Other displays focus on Pyramid Lake’s natural history and the many creatures that make the lake their home, including the Cui-ui fish and the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. pyramidlake.us

Community cultures 

Recently the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum opened its doors in Carson City … for 60 days. Then the pandemic hit.

A long-envisioned endeavor, the campus, now on the National Register of Historic Places, served as an off-reservation boarding school for American Indians from across the West between 1890-1980. The School Cultural Center and Museum, guests can explore the Native land Stewart occupies, as well as to imagine the way the land looked before Stewart was established. The storytelling room features an exhibit about the four main language groups of Nevada: Wa She Shu (Washoe); Numu (Northern Paiute); Nuwu (Southern Paiute); and Newe (Western Shoshone).

The museum’s hallway features changing exhibits of class photos from the graduating classes at Stewart, as well as student art produced when the school was open. The Research Room has archival documents, photographs, and publications about Stewart as well as boarding school history for the public and alumni to access. In addition, the Research Room has an exhibit about the work of Hopi stonemasons and students in the 1920s who made hand crafted stone buildings and landscaping. The Wa-Pai-Shone Gallery features the work of contemporary Great Basin Native artists through the Great Basin Native Artist Association. Check for current schedule and opening updates on their website. stewartindianschool.com (this section added by Meghan Burk) 

Image of Datsolalee
Image of Datsolalee
Under one sky

Also in Nevada’s Capitol, Carson City, the Nevada State Museum teaches history and culture using materials left in the American West and Nevada’s territory. Two of the museum’s galleries include Native American artifacts and exhibits. In the North Changing Gallery, the Our Nevada Stories: Objects Found In Time exhibition includes original Native American art. Explore Under One Sky is a permanent Native American exhibit from their perspective and in their own words. Find out when humans first occupied the Nevada portion of the Great Basin, the natural foods they collected, and the skills they used for survival. See a reconstruction of a Great Basin cave containing evidence of past cultures and climate. nvculture.org

Native trails

At Donner Memorial State Park, check out the Visitor Center, which depicts the history of the area and the people who came into this part of the Sierra, including local Native Americans. Located at about 6,000 feet in Truckee, the park’s visitor center includes a great deal of Native American history and artifacts. The Truckee River and the town of Truckee are named for a Paiute Indian chief who safely guided the wagons of pioneers over the Sierra Pass into California. parks.ca.gov

Baskets of history

Located in a reconstruction of the original Gatekeeper’s Cabin in Tahoe City, the Gatekeeper’s Museum showcases Tahoe history including information about the Washoe people. Exhibits include Native American baskets woven by Louisa Keyser (Datsolalee), Maggie Mayo James and other famous Washoe weavers. From the late 1880s until the mid-1930s, the Washoe tribe’s necessity-based approach to weaving underwent a dramatic transformation as a national appreciation of traditional native arts surfaced in association with the Arts and Crafts movement. Tourism destinations, such as Lake Tahoe, created opportunities for many weavers to sell their work and women such as Louisa Keyser became recognized artists whose work was supported by patrons. northtahoemuseums.org

Washoe Baskets
Washoe Baskets
Etched into time

Head 20 minutes east of Reno and you’ll find Lagomarsino Canyon, one of the largest petroglyph sites in Nevada. Lagomarsino Canyon is one of the most significant archaeological locations of its type in the Great Basin and includes 2,229 rock art panels. The quarter-of-a-mile long site is one of only eight rock art sites in Nevada to be honored on the National Register of Historic Places. nvrockart.org

There are so many ways to explore Nevada’s native culture and history, no matter where your journey takes you.

Disclaimer: Getaway Reno/Tahoe supports social distancing and safe practices promoting the health of our community. Due to the COVID-19 health crisis, digital and print content is updated to the best of our knowledge. Please keep in mind, many photos featured in our publication and online platform were taken before the pandemic and may not reflect current conditions. As you navigate your Reno/Tahoe adventure, be sure to visit the corresponding event url or business page to check cancellations, closings, or postponements. Stay safe, stay healthy. Thank you.