The Washoe – Lake Tahoe’s first locals
By: Tahoe South
Depending on whom you ask you’re not a “real” Lake Tahoe local until you’ve lived here for ten years. Or 15. Possibly 20. This is such a common subject, I have heard people include their years of residency in their list of professional accomplishments, as in “I have been a Tahoe local for 15 years, and have an extensive background in sales and marketing. I also have figured out how to successfully compost in our alpine environment, so there.”
As I have only lived here for five years, and for the life of me cannot get the hang of composting, I feel a bit slighted when I am dismissed as a transient occupant. Personally, I have never felt more “at home” than I do in South Lake Tahoe, and I have a strong sense of community and responsibility to my adopted hometown. But I probably shouldn’t take this dismissal so personally; we’re pretty much ALL transient occupants of Lake Tahoe compared to the Washoe Tribe.
Washoe tradition indicates their homeland has always included Lake Tahoe. Archaeologists trace the Washoe presence at Lake Tahoe back about two thousand years, with the lake and approximately 10,000 square miles of land surrounding the lake once home to and the responsibility of Lake Tahoe’s original “real locals.” Da ow ga, the Washoe word for “lake” is thought to be the source for “Tahoe.”1
Discovery of gold and silver attracted immigrants from around the world to the American West, and evidence shows that from 1848 to 1863 the Lake Tahoe area was overrun by miners, settlers and others. By December 1862, the Washoe Tribe had lost all of its lands. After contact with non-Indian cultures (or the “encroachment” as the Washoe and Federal Government describe it), the Washoe endured as a people, with many continuing ties to the lake after being forced from family camps and upland resource areas. They maintained remnants of their cultural traditions even as their leaders struggled for political and social reforms and requested land and protection for their resources.2
Today, approximately 1,500 enrolled members of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California live on “Colonies,” tribal lands scattered in the Reno, Carson Valley, and Gardnerville areas of Nevada and Woodfords, California. An active tribal government continues to lobby for a land base in the Lake Tahoe basin and works with federal and state agencies and private land owners to protect locations important to Washoe Heritage.3
To learn more about Washoe heritage and culture, visit the following locations: