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Duck Valley Indian Reservation to receive $64 million for new school construction

A group of about 30 people are standing around a man sitting at a table and holding up a piece of paper.
Maria Palma
KUNR Public Radio
Tribal members and students of the Owyhee Combined School joined Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo for a ceremonial signing on the steps of the capitol on June 13, 2023, in Carson City, Nev.

After more than five decades, the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation will be getting a new school.

On Tuesday, June 13, Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo signed a bill that makes an appropriation of $64.5 million to the Elko County School District to replace the Owyhee Combined School.

In a ceremonial signing in Carson City, Lombardo spoke of the significance of the funding for members of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.

“This opened the eyes to the rest of the government that the people in Owyhee, even though you may have never heard of the city, or the town or the tribe, they’re as important as everybody else,” Lombardo said.

Owyhee Combined School is located near the Nevada-Idaho border and serves around 300 students.

The decades-old building has deteriorated due to a lack of attention from the school district and its remote location. A boiler room, proximity to State Route 225 and bats living on the roof are all issues that school officials said are dangerous for students.

Tribal Chairman Brian Mason was fundamental in advocating for the legislation.

“With so many things challenging them on the reservation, everything is stacked against them, this is going to help. They'll have a reason to get up and go to school and succeed. Because it’ll be an adequate school and will have adequate teachers. It's just a big win,” Mason said.

Two men shaking hands.
Maria Palma
KUNR Public Radio
Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo (left) and Shoshone-Paiute Tribal Chairman Brian Mason on June 13, 2023 in Carson City, Nev.

Sean Davis, a sophomore at Owyhee Combined School, traveled six hours to be present at the ceremonial signing.

“I imagine the new school bigger, better and more up to code. Just a whole better place than what we've got now. I’m so happy. So many emotions,” Davis said.

The Tribe’s Business Council already set aside 80 acres for the development of a new school. Mason anticipates it will take about two years to be built.

A long process

Securing funding to replace the Owyhee Combined School was not easy. The proposal moved through several lawmakers before it could reach the governor’s desk.

For five months, Mason met with the Elko County School District, legislators, state senators and members of Congress in hopes of getting a new school.

Mason also encouraged his community to raise their voices and speak out about the bad condition of their current school. He knew that in order for a remote Indian tribe to be heard, they must not let their guard down.

In April, the tribe sent a bus with more than 50 tribal members to Carson City. Among them were students from all grades, teachers and families, all traveling for one reason: to talk to legislators to lobby for a new school.

Children holding signs that say, “Support Owyhee Combined School.”
Maria Palma
KUNR Public Radio
Tribal leaders, students and teachers traveled all the way from the town of Owyhee to speak with legislators and push for a new school on Apr 27, 2023 in Carson City, Nev.

AB273, sponsored by Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen, proposed one-time funding of more than $60 million to build a new school in a different location. But the proposal stalled as lawmakers wanted to find ways to more systematically fund schools on tribal lands.

But as the days passed, the legislators had not reached an agreement.

On May 22, AB519 was introduced to the Nevada Legislature. Presented by the Committee on Ways and Means, the bill established provisions governing capital projects of school districts and made an appropriation to the Elko County School District for the construction of a school on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.

In addition, the bill creates an account to assist rural counties in financing school district capital projects, allocating $25 million for capital projects for schools located on qualified tribal lands, and another $25 million for capital projects at all other schools.

AB519 successfully passed both houses unanimously, and it was enrolled and delivered to the governor on June 9.

Maria joined KUNR Public Radio in December 2022 as a staff reporter. She is interested in stories about underserved communities, immigration, arts and culture, entertainment, education and health.
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