Survival of the Southern Paiute
by Josh LaMore
The Demise of the Paiute’s Way of Life
As time went on, new challenges for the Paiute people arose. Most staggering was the 1954 Termination Law (Public Law 762), promoted by Utah Senator Arthur V. Watkins. Under this law, the Paiutes were no longer federally recognized as a tribe and thereby stripped of all their land, government support, and provisions, including loss of “federal tax protection, health and education benefits, or agricultural assistance.” They were forced to survive in a foreign culture with drastically different beliefs and laws. As a result, “[n]early one half of all Tribal members died … [due to] lack of health resources and lack of adequate income.” Also, since the tribe had little to no economic resources to pay property taxes, they lost approximately “15,000 acres of former reservation lands.”
Restoration of Federal Status
After fighting to restore their federal status for nearly 10 years, legislation was finally signed by President Carter, restoring federal recognition of the Paiute bands of southwestern Utah, on April 3, 1980. Although they only received 4,800 acres of land from the original 15,000 lost and a meager federal trust fund, the Cedar, Indian Peaks, Kanosh, Koosharem, and Shivwits constituent Bands that make up the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah are making a comeback. Since the restoration, there have been significant improvements in Paiute health care, economic development, education, and the preservation of their cultural heritage and way of life.
As of 2014, the ever progressing Paiute Health Department has successfully established 4 health care centers, providing “high quality preventive and primary health care to patients regardless of their ability to pay.” The health department has also created preventative programs such as nutrition workshops, youth wellness activities, exercise programs, as well as counseling, mental health, and substance abuse services. In large part because of these efforts, the tribe’s population as of 2015 has grown to 918 members.
Education become a major priority for the tribe once federal and trust fund support was reinstated. This is because many couldn’t afford to make education a priority without outside support. In fact, after the restoration, it became a rarity for a Paiute child to drop out of school. Now, a large percent of Paiutes go on to pursue higher education or training program opportunities.
Walking In Both Worlds
It remains vital to the Paiutes that they “walk in both worlds.” In other words, it is important for the next generation to be both economically secure (which requires working in United States’ culture), and live the Paiute way. To help maintain this balance, cultural programs, such as Paiute youth summer camps, powwows, and oral history preservation are helping to document, preserve, share, and continue the Paiute language and way of life. Plans are also in the works “to build and operate a Tribal Cultural Center and Museum.”
The Paiutes Will Survive
The Paiutes have overcome insurmountable challenges and devastation as a people. Their long struggle to preserve the Paiute way and flourish continues. But they will not give up. Instead, they celebrate their achievements, promising that while “[t]he struggle is long and difficult… the Paiute will survive.”