In a unanimous vote, the nine members of the California State Historical Resources Commission affirmed support for nominating Patsiata Tübiji Nüümü-na Awaedu Ananisudüheina (Patsiata Historic District) to the National Register of Historic Places.
“Patsiata” is the Indigenous name for Owens Lake, and the nomination has been prepared by the Patsiata Tribal Oversight Committee (PTOC). At their April 29, 2022, public meeting, the Commissioners congratulated the PTOC for adapting a nomination process, originally designed for historic buildings, to a traditional Indigenous landscape that has witnessed creation, beauty, genocide, and cultural resilience. Commissioner René Vellanoweth commented that the Patsiata Historic District encompasses “time and space in ways that are very deep, very meaningful, in ways that move all of us— that’s what historic preservation is to me.” Commissioner Bryan Brandes noted that the Patsiata nomination was “the most powerful nomination that has come before the Commission” during his long tenure.
The PTOC is composed of the Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPOs) of five Tribes with traditional ties to what is now known as Owens Lake: Kathy Jefferson Bancroft of the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation, Danelle Bacoch-Gutierrez of the Big Pine Paiute Tribe of Owens Valley, Sean Scruggs of the Fort Independence Paiute Reservation, Barbara Durham of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, and Monty Bengochia of the Bishop Paiute Tribe.
Because the nomination includes federal land, it will next be forwarded to the Bureau of Land Management’s Federal Preservation Officer for review and co-certification. Finally, it will be
submitted to the Keeper of the National Register for review and determination whether it should be listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property.
The nominated historic district includes approximately 186 square miles in southern Payahuunadü (Owens Valley) in Inyo County, and includes Patsiata, also known as Owens Lake, and the many shorelines formed as lake levels fluctuated over the past 14,000 years. “It’s a history that needs to be told,” said Lone Pine THPO Bancroft.
Big Pine THPO Bacoch-Gutierrez explained the process: “The five united Tribes brought in oral
histories passed down for generations along with Tribal Elders to share their recollection of their wisdom, creation stories, and our traditional life within this beautiful landscape of Patsiata.” Historian Lynn Johnson compiled related archival information, and Far Western Anthropological Research Group prepared an archaeological synthesis to accompany the Tribal histories.
For the Nüümü (Paiute) and Newe (Shoshone) people with traditional roots in Owens Valley, Patsiata has been the center of culture and life since time immemorial. Beginning about 1860, the Nüümü and Newe suffered genocide, forced assimilation, and destruction of their way of life. Nevertheless, their resilience and perseverance are evident in the Indigenous communities that still live near, and care for, the lake. National Register status a can provide a degree of protection: as Commissioner Adam Sriro commented, “you will have a seat at the table” when federal projects are being considered. Fort Independence THPO Scruggs stated,
“Today we seek to heal Patsiata through co-management…. We fight with words, not with weapons.” Big Pine THPO Bacoch-Gutierrez added, “Prayers, songs and ceremonies continue to honor Patsiata. Water still pumps underground in Patsiata, trying to revive her spirit, this is what gives us hope….
To the THPOs, this is just the beginning of bringing back honor and respect to Payahuunadü and sharing the true integrity of our traditional landscapes throughout the connecting lands.”