Las Vegas Sun

May 19, 2019

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Guest Column:

Gold Butte designation protects tribe’s history

President Barack Obama named Gold Butte a national monument Dec. 28, ensuring its preservation for years to come and generations to follow. In his proclamation, the president noted the importance of the land to the Southern Paiutes or Nuwuvi people. On behalf of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, I want to thank his administration, as well as Nevada champions such as Sen. Harry Reid and Congresswoman Dina Titus, for taking this important step and recognizing the crucial need to protect our piece of the Grand Canyon.

The significance of Gold Butte to Southern Paiutes cannot be understated. From time immemorial, my ancestors have traveled across this stretch of desert, learning and coexisting with the land. To us, the Gold Butte area is a sacred site. Our Salt Song Trails, sacred songs sung during ceremonies to honor members who have passed away, describe its beauty and its paths to guide spirits home.

The land is also home to rare species with deep ties to Nuwuvi, including the desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, eagles and many endangered plants. The desert tortoise has long held special significance to my people; its carapace, or shell, was used for practical and ceremonial purposes. Other rare plants like the bearpaw poppy have flowered there for thousands of years, long before Las Vegas was settled.

Gold Butte is what remains of our ancestral history and collective traditions. Our stories are recorded there and can be seen today in the petroglyphs, agave roasting pits, campsites, and trails still left in sand and stone. The land was even part of the original Moapa River Indian Reservation established in 1873. But those reservation boundaries were soon cut away by the government, removing Gold Butte from our safeguard.

Since then, our artifacts and resources have suffered wanton desecration. Graves have been looted, petroglyphs vandalized and archeological sites disturbed. Bullets, trash and illegal off-road vehicle use has ripped through the landscape and threatened the rare wildlife that still dwells there. When officials attempted to place signs or fences, these, too, were soon destroyed or cut down. The extensive damage has been observed and noted, detailed in public reports, and requests for protection to various government agencies have gone unheeded.

That’s why a special designation for Gold Butte has been so important to my people, and why we have advocated for its protection for decades. Already, we have lost too many irreplaceable treasures and placed so much of our cultural and historical heritage at risk. For too long we have witnessed the land’s degradation, unable to retake our role as its stewards.

Now that Gold Butte is a national monument, we look forward to working with the Interior Department and other local stakeholders to protect these sacred sites. We will be willing partners in crafting a management plan that is respectful of our traditions while providing access to all. Like our ancestors, future generations will be able to know and respect this invaluable land.

Darren Daboda is chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribal Council.

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