The Washoe people are the original inhabitants of Da ow aga (Lake Tahoe) area. Tahoe is a mispronunciation of Da ow, meaning “lake”. Washoe ancestral territory consists of a nuclear area with Lake Tahoe at its heart, and a peripheral area that was frequently shared with neighboring tribes. The Paiute and Shoshone live to the east and the Maidu and Miwok to the west.
“As the traditions explain, the Washoe…were here in the beginning and have always lived here…Each cave, stream, lake or prominent geographical feature is named and has stories associated with it.” (Nevers, 1976, p. 3) “The health of the land and the health of the people are tied together, and what happens to the land also happens to the people. When the land suffers so too are the people.”
– A. Brian Wallace, Former Chairman of the Washoe Tribe
The visibility of Washoe people was greatly reduced with the Euro-American settlement of Lake Tahoe, beginning between 1848 and 1863 with an influx of miners and settlers from the Gold Rush. Most of us probably learned about the Gold Rush in school but we probably didn’t hear the whole story.
Many Native American children from these areas were kidnapped from their families and taken to the Stewart Indian School, located just southeast of Carson City, Nevada. The boarding school was opened in 1890 as part of the 1887 federal Assimilation and Allotment program. The government program and associated policies aimed to wipe out Native languages and cultures and separate children from their parents in order to assimilate them into white culture and to create citizens who spoke, looked, and acted the part.
“Allotment was basically taking the land away from the Native people and Assimilation was sending the children far away from their homes. From the start, the federal government’s objective was to erase and replace Indian culture. This includes language, religion, family structure, economics, the way you make a living, the way you express emotion, everything. Boarding schools forbade students from using their given Native names (replaced them with Christian ones), speaking their Native languages, dressing in Native clothing, wearing traditionally long hair, and indoctrinated them to believe American Indians are dirty, inferior, etc. The children received corporal punishment for violating these rules, including one account of having children line up, holding hands, and having the child on the end stick his finger in an electrical socket.
The motto upon which these boarding schools were founded was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” During its 90 years of operation, about 30,000 students are believed to have attended the school. We share this in our Sierra Camp History section because these stories are necessary to have a more complete understanding of what current events in our society are built upon. Many of the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color continue to be overlooked or excluded from mainstream education. It’s time that we seek larger truths, listen, learn, and acknowledge these stories. They are a part of our history, present, and should guide us to a more beautiful and connected future.
The Washoe people were marginalized by genocide, ethnic cleansing, displacement from land, and even the authors writing about Lake Tahoe. If mentioned at all, it is usually to note that the Washoe people are marginalized and have disappeared from Lake Tahoe. This is not the case. They have adapted and integrated their cultural practices and continue to reside within the Lake Tahoe Basin. If you’d like to learn more you can visit www.washoetribe.us or contact the Washoe Cultural Resource Office ph. 775-888-0936.
Let’s also take a moment to recognize the danger in these teachings from a privileged platform.
There is potential danger in this very acknowledgement taking place from the privileged space of a camp and conference center for Stanford University. The danger is that we may think the acknowledgement is enough and that through it we have permission to be on this land or permission to consider ourselves beyond racism when we haven’t earned these rights. It’s a lifelong journey of learning, unlearning, and engaging. We can start by choosing to take time for this acknowledgement as a community to raise awareness for more complete truths.
The Washoe people also feel that it is vitally important for all residents and visitors to understand the depth of Washoe history as well as the current status of the Washoe sovereign tribal nation. This knowledge will help to form a more respectful and complete understanding of Lake Tahoe and the area surrounding it. The Washoe request that we assist in preserving this environment to benefit future generations.
What we can do now is recognize our obligation to take care of our impact, take time to learn about places before we visit, and practice a respectful and mutually beneficial relationship with this ongoing history in the making and practice humility and care for when we do pass through these lands.
Indigenous people are not relics of the past. Today the Washoe people continue to act as stewards of the Lake Tahoe Basin. We invite you to ask of yourselves and your neighbors, What tribes live around you?
In the spirit of Land acknowledgements’ serving to disrupt invisibility and ongoing erasure of Native Americans, we hope this acknowledgement serves as a small step to disrupt this and bring to the forefront of our collective social consciousness the ongoing injustices for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
And now, a bit about how Sierra Camp has come to be on these Washoe lands —
In 1951, a Stanford Alumni Association committee, headed by Mary Curry Tresidder of Yosemite National Park, began looking for a site for a Stanford alumni camp. Mrs. Harriet Craven (class of ’23) was operating the Fallen Leaf Lodge, what is now known as the Old Lodge, and offered to set aside some of her summer bookings as “camp” time. Established in the summer of 1953, Stanford Summer Camp at Fallen Leaf Lodge quickly became popular – approximately 5,000 Stanford alumni, family members and other guests attend each year.
After operating under this arrangement for six years, the Stanford Alumni Association purchased the Fallen Leaf Lodge in 1959, and Stanford Sierra Camp was born. In 1960, a week for an adult guest cost $55.00, and in 1962 the weekly fee was raised to $65.00. The facilities were simple and rustic, allowing Camp to keep prices incredibly low. However, spurred by new laws requiring all sewage to be exported from the Lake Tahoe Basin, the Stanford Alumni Association Executive Board quickly recognized the need to modernize Camp’s facilities. A master plan for redeveloping and modernizing the Camp was conceived in 1968; construction began in the fall of 1969.
Camp’s building program was widely acclaimed by guests, alumni, governmental agencies, and conservationists. The expansion of the facilities allowed Camp to add the spring and fall conference seasons in the early 1970’s. Initially limited to only a few groups per season, the conference program has become a large and integral part of the Sierra Camp operations. The summer program has become more popular than Camp can even accommodate. Selling out since 1988, Camp serves over 3,000 Stanford alumni, faculty, staff, their families and friends each summer.
In 1998, the Stanford Alumni Association Board of Directors voted to merge with Stanford University. In this merger, Stanford Sierra Camp became Stanford Alumni Association Sierra Programs, a Limited Liability Company owned by Stanford University. Stanford students continue to breathe life into the summer program for Stanford alumni and their families, running programming for adults and kids, as well as all-purpose and special shifts.