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Age Old Rivalry Surfaces as Tribes Fight Over Claim to Yosemite

| January 28, 2008

An age old rivalry between two tribes of Native Americans is again surfacing as both tribes strive to claim their place in the history of Yosemite.

News – New Yosemite Indian war: Tribes fight over place in history – sacbee.com: “For centuries, the Mono Lake Paiutes and the Miwok fought over Yosemite’s natural and spiritual bounty.

Today, as the Southern Sierra Miwok plan to build a new Indian village on 5 acres amid Yosemite Valley’s pine and oak trees, several Sacramento Paiute activists are challenging the park’s version of history.

The Miwok already play too prominently in a replica Indian village outside the park museum, the Paiute say.

For 50 cents, visitors can buy a brochure called ‘The Miwok in Yosemite.’ There are few references to the Paiutes, who archaeologists say came from the Eastern Sierra more than 10,000 years ago and fought, traded and married Miwok from the west.

The new Yosemite Indian war pits cousin against cousin. At stake is the recorded history of the national park, the fate of native remains and who ultimately gets federally recognized as the true stewards of Yosemite.

Yosemite’s 3.6 million visitors a year many of whom tour the Indian museum and village are being ‘taught a lie,’ said David Andrews, a Sacramento Indian activist from the Walker River Paiute reservation in northern Nevada.

The 800-member Southern Sierra Miwok say they’re the ones keeping alive native traditions in Yosemite. They have been seeking federal recognition for 26 years.

Caught in the middle are park officials, who say their historical exhibits represent Indians who lived in Yosemite in the early 20th century not thousands of years ago. They mentioned the Paiutes in some of the displays at a refurbished exhibit hall that opened last April.

‘This is certainly a sensitive topic,’ said park spokesman Scott Gediman. ‘We try to present the most up-to-date information, agreed upon by current tribal members and academic sources.’

Last month, the park sent a team of experts to Sacramento to meet with angry Paiutes.

Joe Rhoan, 49, a Paiute from Roseville who’s spent nine years trying to get the Paiute story told, said he ‘went in there loaded for bear.’

His great-grandmother Maria Lebrado whose Indian name, To-tu-ya, means Foaming Water was a teenager in 1851 when the government-sponsored militia, the Mariposa Battalion, burned villages and ran out hundreds of Yosemite Indians they believed were killing gold miners. In one park exhibit, she’s called ‘The Last Survivor’ of the Mariposa Indian War.

Rhoan’s grandparents grew up in Yosemite and lived in an Indian village under Eagle Peak until the village was demolished in 1969. He said he wants the park to give the Paiute people ‘their full recognition’ by labeling exhibits and Indian sites in the park as Paiute.

‘They did say they’d look into the interpretive sign thing, it might take a little time, they needed funding. I said, ‘You know what, I’ll just get a screwdriver and some pliers I can take signs down.’ ‘

Rhoan enrolled in the South Sierra Miwok tribe from 1997 until 2002 but quit after he learned the Miwok had authorized an archaeological dig at Yosemite’s Indian Caves. Rhoan believes the ground where they dug was sacred.

When human remains are found on such digs, the Miwok are charged with reburying them, said Miwok Chairman Tony Brochini. This infuriates Rhoan.

Andrews said messing with Indian remains and Indian history %u2013 has triggered the curse of Tenaya, the Ahwahnee Indian chief who is at least half Mono Lake Paiute. Every rockslide or accident in Yosemite is evidence of Tenaya’s curse, he said.”


Category: News


About Loyd: For over 30 years I've enjoyed hiking, backpacking, fishing, photographing and exploring Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada. More About the Author. View author profile.

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