Ethel, Pyramid Lake resident

Special Feature: Burning Man
Sep 5, 2011

Ethel and Leah | Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribes’ Reservation, NV


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Originally from a Native American tribe in Southern Arizona, Ethel married into the Paiute tribe and has been living in Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribes’ Reservation since the early 1970s. Her daughter Leah, is a Paiute tribal member and also lives in Pyramid Lake. Ethel operates an Indian taco stand and Leah works at the local school.

About Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribes’ Reservation
About 35 miles north of Reno, Nevada, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribes’ Reservation is home to slightly over 1,000 tribal members who have been living in the area for the past 600 years. Paiute tribal history believes Pyramid Lake was formed by the tears of the tribe’s  Stone Mother. The Pyramid Lake War of 1860 also took place in this area and was the greatest confrontation between Native Americans and whites in Nevada’s history.

Pyramid LakePyramid Lake is sacred and economically important to the Paiute. Much of the economy on the reservation is centered around fishing and recreational activities at Pyramid Lake.  According to the 2000 census, 65.7% of Tribal Members were employed either on or off the reservation while 34.3% of the population were unemployed.

Many attendees of the annual Burning Man festival have to drive through remote Pyramid Lake Pauite Tribes’ Reservation to get to the festival grounds – Black Rock Desert.   This annual increase in traffic has offered some locals opportunities to earn extra income around festival time.

LPT: What do you think about Burning Man?

Ethel: We’ve been doing Burning Man from when it first started. And to me, I see it as a positive for the community because it comes during this time of the year when the school year begins. And a lot of grand parents, a lot of parents, put up their stands for food and for their bead work to show the people (festival goers) what they have in their community. And it helps them to provide monies for school, clothes for their children at this time of the year. And, we have some of the families whose children go off to school, to a government boarding school or they go to college and so a lot of the families use this time, to raise money for those finances.  And so, we see it as a positive thing.

LPT: And are the locals able to raise a lot of money just by the week festival?

Ethel: Well, I wouldn’t say a whole lot but enough to help them with subsidies, whatever they maybe earning or if they’re on welfare, whatever.

And the people that come, have been always very cordial. Very interesting. I mean, there’s all types of people, there’s professors, there’s teachers, doctors, lawyers…people from other countries. And I’ve always found them to be very cordial. And you might ask her (motions to daughter, Leah).

LPT: How do you feel about Burning Man?

Leah: I think it’s really exciting ‘cause (local) people start getting excited when they come like the week before. And oh, you know, seeing all the different kinds of arts and…

LPT: You mean the local people around here get excited?

Leah: Yeah, yeah. Just ‘cause there’s so much traffic and it’s pretty much dead through out the year until they start coming through.  And you know, it is different people, different kinds of walks of life and stuff, so.

Ethel: And then you’ll notice that, the solar company from Burning Man has helped the school, the school, where she (Leah) works.

And they’ve (Burning Man) also helped Pyramid Lake High School. They’ve helped the community health clinic with the solar systems and that’s a big plus because we’re all helping each other and working together in a positive way. You know, you hear a lot of people in the outside say negative things about a lot of drinking and drugging and perhaps that’s so.

But I think about 10 years ago she (Leah) was working for granite and she was a heavy equipment operator.  She came by one night, the night of the Burn (annual tradition for Burning Man to burn wooden effigy of a man) and so she said, “Mom, let’s go out and watch the Burn” and so I closed up my shop. I was at that time located by the Nixon Store so I closed up my taco stand and we went out there and it was simply amazing.

LPT: Did you get to see the Man burn?

Leah: We actually did. I was pregnant and we just went out there just in time as they were raising the arms of the Man. As we were walking up it was like a parade to us ‘cause there’s a glowing whale and people in fur, people riding their bikes and glowing, it was really neat to us; it was like a parade. And then we sat out between, I think the camp and the town, and it was clear and open, we just sat there and watched the arms go up and everybody…you can hear everybody. As soon as it was done, people just started coming out towards us and we weren’t prepared at all. We just took a lawn chair. We didn’t have any glow sticks or anything like that so it was really interesting. I mean, we got to see that part. We’ve never been out there during the day or anything like that.

LPT: Did you need tickets to get in?

Leah: At that time, it was like the 2nd year maybe. Yeah, it was very, it was like fresh.

Ethel: We showed our tribal IDs is what we did.

LPT: Can you still do that? If you showed your tribal ID can you get in now?

Leah: I don’t think so. You have to purchase tickets.

Ethel: The tribe has a certain amount of tickets, I believe, that they get and they can take one guest with them.

LPT: Do you see any negative impacts of Burning Man on the local area? 

Ethel + Leah: No.

Ethel: I don’t…we haven’t seen anything negative. They just need to be very cautious when they’re driving through because we are a small community and there are small children on the highway. And, but other than that, for their own safety, they need to be careful. Because it is open range from the mountain here…from Marble Bluff out to Gerlach, it’s open range. And there’s cattle along the road so when they’re traveling so fast and at night, there’s a lot of dips; they can have a really bad accident. And then also if they’re tired, they really should pull over. We have no problem for them to pull over because we rather they be safe than sorry then roll their cars and get hurt.

And there have been a couple of ladies that, one from California and one from Colorado, they left their purses here and so we Fed-Exed their purses to them.  They were so thankful.

And one lady she said she was so amazed, because everything was in there. Her money that she had, her cards. Everything was in there. Nothing was missing. And I said, well, you know, we don’t have any reason to take your money or anything. You know, it’s being kind, considerate of that individual. She probably needed that when she got home.

LPT: Do you have any suggestions on how to improve Burning Man’s impact on the local community?

Leah: No, I mean. Like I said everybody gets excited and starts having their own little stands.  You know in Wadsworth, they have their signs waving at people. And you know, one family has been out there since Burning Man started. They’ve been waving at every car and waving at the locals as well. You know, I just think its pretty positive. Brings the outside to us, you know.

LPT: It’s educational?

Ethel: It’s an educational experience for us as well as for them to know what our people are like and what we have here to offer them. They do go out to our lake, our lake is sacred and we always tell them that our lake is sacred, the things around it are sacred – petroglyphs and the rocks are sacred. And so they need to respect that. But..you know, like I said, I’ve heard a lot negative things about naked people on drugs and alcohol and stuff, but there are some people there (Burning Man) that just want to show their love for life and show their skills. And my gosh, there are some very artistic people out there. And so, you know, we’re all God’s children. And we’re all here on this earth and we help each other.

LPT: Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Ethel: And you have a safe journey home.

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