The Nüümü – Bishop Paiute Tribe: A Sovereign Tribal Nation
In 1912, the U.S. Government reserved over 67,000 acres of lands in the Payahuunadü (“the place of flowing water”) / Owens Valley for the Indians of this area. In 1932, President Hoover revoked the 67,000 acres of reserved land and placed the lands in watershed protection status for the City of Los Angeles. In 1936, the City of Los Angeles wanted the remaining lands and the federal government traded these lands for the 875 acres that now comprise the Bishop Paiute Reservation located at the base of the magnificent Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The Paiute people who live on the Bishop Paiute Reservation are descendants of the Nüümü, the original people of Payahuunadü / the Owens Valley. Today the Paiute people are the fifth largest Californian Tribe, with 2,000 members and one of the smallest land bases. Despite the land predicament, the Tribal government has upgraded technical capabilities and developed infrastructure for the present and future growth of the Bishop Paiute Reservation. The tribe provides members with various programs and services and operates a variety of tribal owned entities and enterprises. The tribe is engaged in progressive development and highly values self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and maintains committed to being a strong self-governing sovereign nation.
Nüümü means “People” in the Eastern Mono language dialect. The Nüümü refer to their kin to the west as Pana Witü (“western place People”).
The Nim – North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians
The Tribe is comprised primarily of Northfork Mono, a label given to them by an ethnographer in the 1910s to describe people then living along and north of the San Joaquin River. By this time, non-Native acquisition of lands in the San Joaquin Valley had resulted in Tribal citizens concentrating around the town of North Fork. Ancestors of the Tribe also include members of the Yokut and Miwok linguistic groups. The Northfork Mono, and other local indigenous people, made their homes in the foothills of the western slope and used the Valley floor for its resources.
The arrival of non-Native in the Valley, as early as the 1810s, disrupted their lives, as they were forced to flee from kidnapping, violence and disease. The 1849 California Gold Rush exacerbated these issues, and culminated in the Mariposa Indian War of 1850-51. Treaties were made, land ceded to the Tribes, and then those treaties were broken and the lands were overrun by settlers. After many years of difficulties, the Tribe’s federal recognition status was restored in 1983. Today, the Tribe is among the larger tribes in California with close to 1800 members.
Nim means “People” in the Western Mono language dialect.
Mono Lake Kutzadika’a
The Kutzadika’a have resided in the Mono Lake–Yosemite region since time immemorial. They are the southernmost band of the Nüümü (Northern Paiute) and speak the local dialect of Numu Yadooana. The unique landscape of the Mono Basin has been nurtured by the Kutzadika’a and in turn the land has been bountiful to these people. To the unknowing eye, the Mono Basin can be perceived as a lifeless desert, but the Indigenous knowledge of the Mono Lake Kutzadika’a proves this wrong.
The seasons influence the movement of the Kutzadika’a throughout the Mono Basin and led to the establishment of trade routes in every direction, some of which are still used today. Stories passed along through time share what life in the Mono Basin was like before white settlers arrived. There are many voices of the Kutzadika’a today who share their history and stories, such as Joseph Lent in his essay “Hanno pa’mogo miahoo? Where have the frogs gone?.” While the traditional Kutzadika’a way of life was forever altered when white settlers arrived in the Mono Basin, the tribe has preserved their culture and history. The resilience of the Kutzadika’a is a reflection of their past and a hope for their future.
There is presently a bill pending in Congress, H.R. 3649, to extend federal recognition to the Mono Lake Kutzadika’a Tribe. As one aspect of federal recognition, the bill would grant hunting and fishing rights on all federal lands within the Tribe’s ancestral land area.
Archaeological evidence suggests that humans began crossing the Sierra Crest east of Devils Postpile at least 7,500 years ago. Obsidian fragments, likely originating from the Casa Diablo, have been found in the monument and provide evidence of the area's role in the early California obsidian trade as early as 2,500 to 5,000 years ago.
Trade between groups from the west and east slopes of the Sierra Nevada brought people through the Devils Postpile area for thousands of years. In addition to food, tools, and other materials, the tribes exchanged ideas and customs.
To meet with the Paiute, the North Fork Mono traveled through the Middle Fork Valley and over Mammoth Pass, which at 9,300 feet is the lowest point for more than 250 miles along the Sierra crest. They used a series of nine camps throughout the area, on the final ascent over the Sierra crest they camped at, one of their camps which is understood to be a spring on the slope of Mammoth Mountain. Once over the Pass, the North Fork Mono trading parties typically remained there until the pine nuts were ripe in the fall.
The Mammoth Pass Trail from the North Fork San Joaquin Valley through the Middle Fork Valley continues to be used by North Fork Mono and Paiute communities into the modern era. Today the general route can be followed by taking Sheep's Crossing over the North Fork San Joaquin and the King Creek Trail through the north end of the monument to Reds Meadows and over Mammoth Pass.