Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah: History
43 Years of Rightful Recognition
On April 3rd, 1980, we regained rightful federal recognition. In order to help individuals understand what that truly means to our people, we want to share more of our unique history.
“History is not there for you to like or dislike. It is there for you to learn from it.
And if it offends you, even better. Because then you are less likely to repeat it.
It’s not yours to erase. It belongs to all of us.” – Author Unknown
Click below to read the History of the 1980 Restoration Act (Part 1) written by PITU Tribal Member, Travis Parashonts (Benioh).
Click to read historical truths about the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.
Home of the Nung'wu
The Southern Paiutes (Nung’wu) have traditionally lived here, in our homelands, since time immemorial. According to our traditional creation stories, the Nung’wu were chosen to live in the most beautiful place at the center of the world to take care of Mother Earth (Too’veep). Our Ancestors were the original stewards and possessors of what is now known as Southern Utah, Northern Nevada, Southwestern California, and Northern Arizona. We are connected to our ancestorial lands, the animals, and the sacred sites of our Too’veep.
Our Nung’wu Ancestors were a peaceful community, culturally well adapted, and knowledgeable and resourceful. They worked with the earth, farmed on natural floodplains, and moved according to seasons, harvest times, and animal migrations. Our Ancestors used the resources of the land with great ingenuity.
A Resilient People
Throughout the centuries, our homelands were claimed through westward expansion which disrupted the cultural and traditional life of our Nung’wu Ancestors. They were resilient and determined people that did their best to preserve our traditional and ceremonials ways.
We are the survivors of unjust treatment, inhumane federal Indian policy, colonization, and massacres. To better understand who we are today, it is important to know our unique history.
- In 1830, President Andrew Jackson pushed the Indian Removal Act, an Act to forcibly remove 46,000 of our Indigenous people from their homes in the East to what is now known as Oklahoma. More than 4,000 died on the journey due to disease, starvation, and exposure to extreme weather. This journey is now known as the Trail of Tears.
- In 1883 the Religious Crimes Code was passed by Congress to ban Indigenous dancing and ceremonies.
- In 1887, the Dawes Allotment Act was passed, with the intention of acquiring and diminishing the lands once promised to us through our Treaty Rights.
- We, as Indigenous Americans were not considered citizens of the United States, until the passing of the Snyder Act in 1924.
- In 1928, the Meriam Report: The Problem of Indian Administration was released and depicted the dire socioeconomic impact and failure of the United States Government in oversight of tribes, triggering the Indian Reorganization Act.
- In 1934, the Indian Reorganization Act was passed and forced upon our Tribes to form elected tribal governments. We could no longer acknowledge our traditional forms of governance and leadership.
- In 1947, William Zimmerman, Commissioner for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was tasked to solve the Indian Problem and downfall of the Indian Reorganization Act by releasing a document known as the Zimmerman report that outlined termination. This same year, the National Congress of American Indian was formed in Denver, Colorado, to fight against any termination legislation that was being proposed. This same year, Senator Arthur Watkins, R. UT, accepted the position of Chairman of the Indian Affairs subcommittee of the Senate.
- In 1953, the Termination Policy passed with the intention to eliminate the federal supervision and recognition of our Tribes and to end the federal government’s treaty and trust responsibility to our Tribal Nations.
In 1953, the U.S. Congress outlined the following criteria that Tribes had to meet in order to be considered for termination:
- the Tribe had to be economically ready,
- the Tribe had to be somewhat acculturated into society,
- the Tribe had to have positive support from the local city, county, and state officials, and
- the Tribe had to have the approval of their respective Tribal Members.
The Federal Select Committee, which developed the four criteria, also developed a list of Tribes who they felt were eligible for Termination. Our Nung’wu Bands were not on the original termination list and did not meet the termination criteria. Our people did not want termination. Senator Arthur Watkins, from Utah, was one of the primary sponsors of the bill. He was eager to have the Tribes from Utah on the termination list. He promised and preached freedom and other untruthful benefits in efforts to manipulate our Bands.
In 1954, Congress quickly passed Public Law 762, the Termination Act, which terminated the federal supervision, treaty, and trust responsibilities of our Nung’wu Bands due to the advocacy of Senator Watkins even though we did not qualify for termination.
Our Nung’wu Bands that were terminated due to the Act were the Shivwits Band, Kanosh Band, Koosharem Band, and Indian Peaks Band. Our Elders were officially denied federal recognition and cut off from the once promised federal obligations. This included benefits such as health and human services. The Cedar Band was overlooked and not on the termination bill but was also cut off from federal assistance and consequently suffered de facto termination.
The Termination Era was detrimental to our people and resulted in the dramatic diminishing of our culture and traditions. During the Termination Era, for every Nung’wu birth, there were three (3) Nung’wu deaths. We saw a decline in life expectancy, with the average age being only 42 years old. Nearly half of our population died due to ill health, poor housing conditions, and nutritional deficiencies. As our local communities were growing all around us, we were going extinct. Inadequate healthcare, housing, education, and no economic growth left us in bleak living situations with poverty and social disruption. At the same time, many of our Pee’soats-eng (children) were being taken from us. They were either placed in foster care, the Indian Placement Program (ran by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), or were adopted out of the Nung’wu community. Due to the termination, our pride and culture diminished dramatically. We began losing many of our cultural teachings, access to our medicinal plants, hunting grounds and language. Currently, we still are not allowed to practice our ceremonies and are continuing to lose access to our sacred ceremonial and burial sites.
The Fight for Restoration
In 1970, the federal government recognized that the Termination Act was “morally and legally unacceptable.” President Richard Nixon unequivocally rejected and condemned the Termination Act, claiming it was based on false premises and its practical results were “clearly harmful.”
In 1972, our Nung’wu Elders came together to establish the Utah Paiute Tribal Corporation, a non-profit corporation, with the goal and intention of uniting the five (5) Nung’wu Bands in the fight to regain federal restoration. The Board of Directors of the Corporation was composed of representatives from each Band. The Utah Paiute Tribal Corporation began performing governmental functions and operating as a governmentally organized Tribe.
The original board members of the Utah Paiute Tribal Corporation and the leaders who worked tirelessly towards regaining our rightful recognition were:
McKay Pikyavit, Kanosh Band Chairman
Travis Benioh (Parashonts), Cedar Band Chairman
Clifford Jake, Indian Peaks Band Chairman
Vera Charles, Koosharem Band Chairwoman
Beverly Snow, Shivwits Band Chairwoman
McKay Pikyavit was also the Chairman of the board and the founder of the Utah Paiute Tribal Corporation.
In 1975, Congress passed the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, which encouraged and empowered Tribes to have more direct control of our programs and services. This same year, the Utah Paiute Tribal Corporation began its effort to regain federal recognition for our Nung’wu people. Our Elders in the Bands understood that there was more influence and power through unification. Our Elders worked towards forming a single cooperative tribal government that would represent all Nung’wu Bands, as reflected in the structure of the Utah Paiute Tribal Corporation.
The hard work, dedication, perseverance, and vision of our leaders were finally rewarded.
On April 3, 1980, Congress passed Public Law 96-227, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Restoration Act, which established federal recognition to our Tribe, which is comprised of the five (5) constituent Nung’wu Bands (Cedar, Indian Peaks, Kanosh, Koosharem, and Shivwits). This Act restored the federal trust relationship back to our Tribe.
The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Restoration Act acknowledged that the Indian Peaks, Kanosh, and Koosharem Bands had lost their ancestorial reservation lands and that Cedar Band never had any. Language was stated within the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Restoration Act that allowed our Tribe to choose lands (public, State or private lands within Beaver, Iron, Millard, Sevier, or Washington Counties, Utah.) to establish a reservation for our Tribe, through the creation of a Reservation Land Use Plan which included the acquisition of 15,000 total acres of land.
On February 17, 1984, Congress passed the 1984 Act, “An Act to declare certain lands to be held in trust for the benefit of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and for other purposes.” The 1984 Act approved 4,770 acres of reservation lands; 10,230 less than the original promise of 15,000 acres of land, as enlargement of the reservation land as authorized in the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Restoration Act. The tribe had a significant deficit in obtaining reservation property and once again had to be resilient. There was considerable pushback by surrounding communities and corporations interested in federal government property held in trust for the United States that the tribe could write in their reservation plan. One of the significant hurdles that the tribe faced was fighting oil and gas for national forest property. Ultimately, the tribe lost battles with surrounding communities and corporations, and the only option left was Bureau of Land Management property deemed worthy of being claimed as reservation property. The 1984 Act also established our Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Economic Development and Tribal Government Fund, an irrevocable trust fund, with half of the principal of the interest designated for Economic Development and the other half designated to support Tribal Government. This fund was considered the fulfillment of the promise of acquiring 15,000 acres of land as an enlargement of the reservation land as authorized in the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Restoration Act.
Form of Government
Today, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah’s form of government is established in its constitution. The PITU Tribal Council is the official, elected governing body of the Tribe. The Tribal Council consists of six (6) Tribal Members, one (1) Member elected from and by each constituent band’s membership; the sixth Member is elected by the whole PITU membership to represent the Tribe as the Chairperson. The Tribal Council is vested with all executive and legislative powers of the Tribe to make and implement laws and has the authority to represent the Tribe and act in all matters that concern the welfare of the Tribe. The Tribal Council protects the Tribe’s tribal sovereignty as recognized by the Federal Government. The Tribe’s Constitution and the ordinances of the Tribal Council are the supreme law of the Tribe.
Each constituent Band has its own organizational government structure, by-laws, and operational procedures to direct and govern the Band and its business. Each Band has the authority and responsibility to manage its natural resources and all activities within its Band Lands. Each Band has its own community located on or near its traditional lands or former reservation lands:
- Cedar Band Reservation (Cedar City, Utah)
- Indian Peaks Band Reservation (Cedar City, Utah)
- Kanosh Band Reservation (Kanosh, Utah)
- Koosharem Band Reservation (Richfield, Utah; Joseph, Utah; Koosharem, Utah)
- Shivwits Band Reservation (Ivins, Utah)
Look to the Future
It was said by our restoration leaders that the fight to be restored wasn’t so much for themselves, but for their children and their children’s children.
Today, we are the children’s children they fought for and spoke of.
Since Restoration, our Tribe has not looked back. For the past 40 years, our Tribe has worked diligently to rebuild and establish its operational capacity while continuing to look to the future. By developing a community our ancestors would be proud of, we are following in their footsteps, by keeping our children’s children in mind. We are maximizing our Tribe’s strategic growth, developing department work plans and key initiatives. We are focused on the quality of services, continuous improvement, increasing self-sufficiency, and improving the socioeconomic well-being of our Tribal members. We are steadfast in strengthen our sovereignty and our ability to self-govern. We are devoted to passing on the knowledge of our Nung’wu culture, traditions, and values for all the Nung’wu generations to come. Our Tribe is not content to merely survive, it is our goal to thrive, and control our future and destiny.
We would not be here today, if it were not for our leaders, their vision, sacrifice, selflessness, and love for the betterment of our Nung’wu People. Ai’yuk.