Former Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Chairman Talks Native Issues, Election Turnout

Feb 23, 2020

The Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation is one of the largest in the state. But, some tribal members say they feel ignored by politicians locally and nationally.

Noah Glick visited Pyramid Lake High School for the caucus over the weekend. He met up with Norman Harry, the former chairman for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe to discuss voter turnout and the 2020 Election more generally.

KUNR: What would it take to get higher turnout here? We’ve got the site here, which is a good first step. In your view, what would you like to see to increase turnout among native voters?

Harry: I think what would help is if the candidates could actually come out. Maybe four years from now, or three years from now when the process starts all over again, to actually get together and see the lands. We have to do the same thing even with our state legislators, because most of them come from urban settings. They have no idea what’s out here. They have no idea what this tribe specifically at Pyramid Lake has accomplished with its water rights settlements, and Truckee River Operating Agreement and all of that.

Back in 2016, the tribe was involved in a lawsuit to get polling sites on the reservation and to increase early voting and a few other things. What has been the significance of that work this election? Are you seeing more participation? Did that help get people more engaged in the process?

I think it really helped, not only in our area, but also across the state of Nevada. Essentially the agreement was between the state and the tribe for those that wanted to have polling places. And I know other tribes have taken advantage of that.

I noticed there was a little bit of confusion around this site having some native communities having to go to another site. What are your thoughts on that? Would you like to see every community here on the reservation come to the same site?

I think you have to look at things logistically. So early voting took place in Wadsworth, which is our southern most township. Now, we’re in the central community of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, so logistically it makes more sense to hold this event here centrally. So, then you got Sutcliffe 18 miles to the West and of course, Wadsworth 16 miles to the south. So, there’s always going to be questions that come up about this and that, but this is where we held the caucus the last time as well, too.

What is the significance of the native vote and getting more tribal members out to the polls?

To me, being involved with our tribal government for so long and to be involved with some of the most controversial water settlements, it’s very disheartening to have witnessed President Trump rolling back all of the protections for air, water quality, all the environmental concerns, opening up our cultural significant areas for mining. And that’s something that’s been protected for decades. And now, if we anticipate a Democrat getting in, I think the word has already been spread that these are the areas that are significant for our native people.

And even the lands bills that are being considered right now, we still look at that as a land grab, and they really haven’t consulted with the tribes, because there’s areas that we’re surrounded by here at Pyramid Lake that are federal lands, BLM [Bureau of Land Management] lands, so on and so forth. We could utilize adding those lands onto the reservation to protect our resources. We don’t need mining right west of our reservation, it’s all BLM land. So we fought for decades in the courts and through negotiations to protect our fish, protect our water, protect our land.