Vinton Hawley chairs the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. This interview was taped at a ceremony featuring non-tribal federal and state officials.
Did you grow up here?
Yes. I grew up in Nixon. … When I grew up we had old people from the old days that we were able to get some insight into some matters that had happened historically, and that was really a key thing for me that happened—cultural values, across the board.
What’s the population of the reservation?
The membership is 2,140, somewhere around that area. …
What kind of problems does the tribe face these days?
There are several issues. Water is probably the biggest issue we’re facing at this time.
Even with the settlement in place?
Even with the settlement in place. Everywhere is experiencing drought conditions. California—our water comes from California—we feel it on the Nevada side, and they’re feeling it on the California side.
What kind of cooperation do you get off the reservation, from folks like this?
There’s cooperation. The [Pyramid Lake Tribal] Council is generally in charge of making the administrative decisions in regards to the water issues, and the tribal chairman has the executive decisions. … But one of the things we also look at with the membership is trying to educate them on some of the issues we do have with the settlement. I don’t know which settlement you’re referring to—.
The Truckee River water agreement.
Yes. There’s some misunderstandings, and it’s up to us to educate and let the membership know what the tribe contentions are, and meeting with the local governments. We’re still working on some of those things. …
So there have been misunderstandings even after the agreement was enacted?
Yes. There are misunderstandings. There’s a lot of parts to the agreement that come into play.
I read recently that there are only three members of the tribe who still speak the language.
No, there’s more who speak the language. You know, we have classes and we’re trying to re-educate culturally. But there’s probably 15 to 20 individuals who speak fluently, and we also provide the language classes. Ralph Burns teaches a community class. For us, that’s one of the biggest priorities on my part.
Is it difficult to keep young tribe members on the reservation?
Yes and no. That’s really a two-pronged question, because with the development outside and knowing that there are options and other venues for life, it’s not a real difficult thing, but it’s something that the people in the life actually promote. You know, it’s not the tribe trying to say, “You’ve got to stay here.” It’s important, the expansion of education, you know—so much more opportunity. And building them up to that is really what the tribe would like to do in school.
How many jobs are there on the reservation?
Within administration, we probably employ close to 150, but with seasonal operations it does increase. And then with the fishery operation, there are seasonal positions, but the population outweighs the job opportunities on the reservation. So that’s why we try to continually promote expansion and make the membership aware of the opportunities. And home is home.