Mono Lake and Owens Valley Native Americans







Native Americans, especially the Mono Lake Paiutes and the Yosemite Indians, have been living off the land at Mono Lake for hundreds of years. They have learned how to use their surroundings and have adapted to their own lifestyle. When the city of Los Angeles decided to use the streams they live off of to transport fresh water to Southern California, the Indians were forced to adapt to a completely different lifestyle. The lack of electricity and plumbing made it a hard transition for them. Their fresh water streams dried up and Mono Lake became extremely salty, causing a lack of fresh water for its inhabitants.
Mono Lake Paiutes used arrowheads to hunt ground animals such as squirrels and snakes. Since no fish lived in the lake, the Indians ate Alkali flies and their larvae. They gathered the Alkali fly larvae in hand woven baskets that the women carried on their backs. They had plenty of flies and Brine shrimp to eat when they returned home.
Most of the Indians remaining in the Mono Lake area live in one room dwellings. These shelters are called wickiups. Something that is special about these houses is the thatched roof that insulates heat from the cold mountainous climate. The Indians also developed digging sticks that are used to scrape away dirt. Each village shows unity by taking part in pow wows, or meetings, to celebrate a marriage or other social ceremony.
The men of the Owens Valley Paiute tribe hunt in groups, all year around. They don't waste any part of the animal. They even use the bones as tools or as weapons. The women gather and plant plants. Their typical planting crops are corn, squash, pumpkins, beans, and sunflower seeds. They are also skilled at basket weaving and the raising of children. The children are taught games to improve their hunting skills so they can become good members of society. They also take care of their elders. Education of the Paiutes varies within regions. In some tribes, the men teach the boys how to be hunters and the women taught the girls how to be effective mothers. The elders told stories and passed down legends.
The Northern Paiutes speak a Shoshonen dialect. The Southern Paiutes speak Numic. Some of them also speak Ute-Aztecan. There are different dialects of the Paiute language in the Owens valley. Although they are very diverse, they all have one similarity. All dialects have vowels and consonants that sound similar to English. This is probably because of settler occupation in the Owens Valley in the 1800's
There are many customs and traditions in the Mono Lake Paiute culture. Parents give children names relating to the totems of their particular sides. Like other Miwok bands, the Paiutes cremate their dead to liberate the spirit of the deceased. Most of the dead person's belongings are placed with the body on the funeral pyre. There are many different ceremonies that remember the dead.
The stories about Ahwahnee told by the Yosemites are the Paiutes' means of explaining and ordering their world. They tell stories for enjoyment during the cold winter and for restating the history of the band. Three legends that tell the origin of several features of Yosemite Valley are the Legend of El Capitan, Legend of Lost Arrow, and the Legend of Half Dome.
The Paiute art that the people are strongest in is the art of basket weaving. Although they are skilled in other arts such as carving and making arrowheads, basket weaving is the most efficient form of art because it is used when gathering food. This art is commonly done by the women of the society. The literature that is told within these tribes are myths and legends that have originated from ancient times. Elders usually take part in reciting the stories. The Music of the culture is usually performed by men for dance rituals and community meetings. In more recent times, however, some women are taking over this field.
The Paiute religion has many aspects of worship. Dances are used to worship the nature and other elements of nature. There are also many ceremonies and rituals that are performed to honor the natural spirits in the world. Wovoka, a popular medicine man and prophet, raised the hope of the Paiute people with his sermons. He also invented the ghost dance which is a ritual that spans five nights. In addition, to the lesser natural spirits, the Paiutes also believe in one supreme creator. They believe the plants and animals are parts of the spiritual and natural world. Another one of their beliefs is that man is three parts; spirit, mind and body.
In the past the Paiutes had a leader called a chief, who was put into power by the death of the chief and the son taking place. He was the one who led the tribe in their trade and was a major part of the government. The chief was present at every meeting the tribe had. The government today is on the reservations. The people vote for their leaders. They have to be over 21 and have Paiute background. The offices are chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary and treasurer.
The major sources of income to the Paiutes in the past were trades to the tribes who lived in the Yosemite region. Today, though, they rely on tourism because of their beautiful region that is great for camping vacations. Businesses have seen this and started moving in, planning out projects like the Paiute Palace Casino, mini malls, and RV parks.
The Owens Valley Lake Paiutes and the Mono Lake Paiutes are very similar. One fact is that the Owens Valley Lake Paiutes were more agricultural while the Mono Lake Paiutes were more of hunters and gatherers. In the Mono groups the women were responsible for the gathering of food including brine shrimp, pine nuts, brine fly larvae, and mountain berries and the men hunted for squirrel and other animals. The Owens Valley Paiutes though mastered the art of domestication of plants. The Mono Lake Paiutes didn't have much confrontation with the settlers who came for agriculture. The Owens Valley Paiutes were a bit more belligerent to the new settlers. They did things such as steal horses and eat them. They also got in fights with the settler and later were used as laborers for the white landowners of the area. Actually in fact the Mono Lake People never were in contact with the settlers in the area. Also the Owens Valley and the Mono Lake Paiutes never lived together. They possibly traded but that's all they did in terms of interaction. Also the Owens Valley Paiutes had different diets. They ate Deer, berries, and other forest-based flora and fauna. As I said earlier the Mono Lake Paiutes were more focused on the lake as the source of their diet. The Owens Valley traded exclusively with the Native Americans to the south while the Mono Lake Paiutes traded much with the Yosemite Native Americans. The Mono and the Yosemite groups also had people from both sides who became couples. This wasn't done in the Owens Valley Paiute groups. Although they have the same name of Paiute, they have their differences.
Since the streams have began to flow back into the lake, the Native Americans will soon be able to return to their old way of life. This includes practicing their same traditions and once again living off the lake. Still the lake itself will not be back to its original height, but this will be a major step in the process of restoration.

© 2000 - Ajay Sampat, Josh Jacks, Barry Mesias, Matt Monges, Brad Snyder