On January 15, 1931 the United States Secretary of the Interior, Harold L. Ickes,
approved a constitution and by-laws which recognized the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony as a sovereign nation. Eighty years later on that same date, over 300 people associated with the Colony recognized that significant historic milestone.
“It was really a great day,” said Trisha Calabaza, the RSIC’s Archives Photograph Manager who spearheaded the day-long event. “We had a good turnout with a lot of positive feedback.”
The celebration took place in the multipurpose room at the RSIC Administration building.
It included before and after photos and maps of the tribal lands, a pictorial timeline of the Colony’s history, a photo display of the RSIC’s leadership through the last 80-years, a video created in the early 70’s which highlighted youth and focused on the day-to-day life at the reservation.
RSIC Chairman Arlan D. Melendez addressed a crowd and read an official proclamation for Celebrating 80 Years of Sovereignty before Janice Gardipe, tribal elder, educator and activist, provided a blessing and a traditional song.
Besides enjoying refreshments, attendees had an opportunity to leave his or her mark on the day.
With the United States Civil Rights Commission’s definition of sovereignty prominently
displayed, participants were invited to share what sovereignty means to him or her.
According to the civil rights commission, sovereignty refers to “…tribes’ right
to govern themselves, define their own membership, manage tribal property, and regulate tribal business and domestic relations; it further recognizes the existence of a government-to-government relationship between such tribes and the federal government.”
With that definition as a starting point, participants wrote their interpretation of sovereignty on decorative paper and displayed their ideas.
Most of the contributions, mirrored the formal definition. For example one person wrote, “To me sovereignty means the right to govern yourself and right to choose the direction of your people,” and another wrote: “We are a Nation within a Nation (U.S.) with our own government: court, police for our people.
Still other contributions were much simpler and much more sentimental, like “To me
sovereignty means a celebration of our choosing,” and another wrote: “Love
for our people.”
So, while the celebration included looking back at admired leaders and
remembering struggles of the past, the day proved to be a time to look ahead, too.
“This is just the beginning,” remarked one community member.
Another participant said that every day we make decisions which decide the direction
of our people.
“We have to plan for future generations,” she added.
And as any effective learning environment does, the celebration included
constructive feedback as well.
“Even though we are a sovereign nation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) supersedes us,” remarked one community member. “So in a way, we are still under someone’s law.”
Another tribal member lamented that being part of a sovereign nation while also
being a United States citizen can limit his civil rights.
“Our declaration of a sovereign nation cuts out my right as a U.S. citizen,” he felt.
Esnala Kaye, a member of the planning committee who oversaw this interactive portion of the program said that she was surprised by the discussion the exercise of defining sovereignty generated.
“A lot of people were very emotional when I asked them what sovereignty meant to them,” Kaye said. “I wasn’t expecting that, but really it was good because we saw a different point of view.”
Kaye explained for some Native Americans who don’t have essential services and are not federally recognized, thinking about others exercising sovereignty might be painful.
“After I talked to one lady and even discussed the subject with my family, it hit me how fortunate the RSIC people really are,” Kaye said.
That same sentiment was conveyed when Chairman Melendez read his proclamation.
“Though much has change in these past 80-years, the resolve of the Numa, the Newe and the Washeshu has not,” Chairman Melendez said. “From our early origins of government, to our 80th anniversary, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony continues to evolve while preserving its unique, rich and sacred past. We thrive by the sacrifice of our elders, the vision of our youth, and the spirit of our ancestors.”