July 10, 2012

Washoe Tribe of Nevada & California


The Washoe Tribe of Nevada & California is located on the Nevada/California border. The tribal government has jurisdiction over trust and allotments in both Nevada and California, with additional tribal trust parcels located in Alpine, Placer, Sierra, Douglas, Carson and Washoe Counties. The Washoe are an ancient people with ties to the California and Great Basin cultures. Lake Tahoe, Nevada was the center of Washo culture.

Official Tribal Name: Washoe Tribe of Nevada & California

Address: 2900 S. Curry Street, Carson City, NV 89703
Phone: 775-883-6459
Fax: 775-883-6467
Email: Email this tribe

Official Website: 

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning

waashiw (translated in older literature as WA SHE SHU), meaning “the people from here.”

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:

Alternate names:

Carson Colony, Dresslerville Colony, Woodfords Community, Stewart Community, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Washoe Ranches

Alternate spellings:


Name in other languages:

Region: California, Great Basin 

State(s) Today: California, Nevada

Traditional Territory:

The present day Washoe Tribe has deep roots in the past, radiating from Lake Tahoe, a spiritual and cultural center, and encompassing an area that stretches from Honey Lake to Mono Lake. Prior to contact with Europeans, the territory of the Washoe people was roughly bounded by the southern shore of Honey Lake in the north, the west fork of the Walker River in the south, the Sierra Nevada crest in the west, and the first range east of the Sierra Nevada in the east. The Washoe would generally spend the summer in the Sierra Nevada, the fall in the ranges to the east, and the winter and spring in the valleys between them.

Confederacy: Washoe


Reservations: Washoe Ranches, Carson Colony, Dresslerville Colony, Stewart Community, and Woodfords Community

Land Area: The tribe owns over 64,300 acres (260 km2) in different parcels. 
Tribal Headquarters:  Gardnerville, Nevada
Time Zone:  

Population at Contact:

At the Tribes’s peak, they were about 5,000 strong. In the late 19th Century their numbers diminished to 300. 

Registered Population Today:

Today, they have about 1,500 members.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Must be 1/4 Washoe. Can have separate membership in communities represented on the Tribal Council, but cannot belong to other tribes. 

Genealogy Resources:


Charter: Organized pursuant to the Indian Reorganization Act of June 18, 1934, as amended. The tribal government has jurisdiction over trust and allotments in both Nevada and California, with additional tribal trust parcels located in Alpine, Placer, Sierra, Douglas, Carson and Washoe Counties.
Name of Governing Body: Washoe Tribal Council 
Number of Council members: The Tribal Council consists of 12 representatives from the Washoe Tribal Community Councils, plus a chaiman, vice-chairman, and a secretary-treasurer. Each community council sends two representatives to the Washoe Tribal Council. The communities are: Carson Colony, Dresslerville Community, Off-Reservation, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Stewart Community, and Woodfords Community. In addition, each member community has a community council of their own, with 5 elected members in each community.  Off reservation Washoe people also have two representatives on the tribal council.
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
Number of Executive Officers: A Chairman is elected by a general vote of the tribal members, a Vice-Chairman is appointed by the tribal council from within the council, and a Secretary-Treasurer is appointed by the tribal council from within or outside the council, but must be a tribal member. 


Elections are held every four years on the third Saturday in October. 

Language Classification:

Hokan? ->Washoe
The Washoe language is tentatively regarded as part of the Hokan language family; however, it is also considered to be a language isolate.

The Washoe people are the only Great Basin tribe whose language is not Numic, so they are believed to have inhabited the region before neighboring tribes. The Kings Beach Complex that emerged around 500 CE around Lake Tahoe and the northern Sierra Nevadas are regarded as early Washoe culture. The Martis complex may have overlapped with the Kings Beach culture, and Martis pit houses gave way to conical bark slab houses of historic Washoe culture. 

Reno linguist foremost expert on Washoe language

Language Dialects:

There is no significant dialect variation. There may be a few slight variations between Northern Washoe speakers and Southern Washoe speakers, but it is not significantly different. 

Number of fluent Speakers:

Washoe is an endangered Native American language isolate spoken by the Washo on the California–Nevada border in the drainages of the Truckee and Carson Rivers, especially around Lake Tahoe. While there are only 20 elderly native speakers of Washo, since 1994 there has been a small immersion school that has produced a number of moderately fluent younger speakers, four reportedly with limited English proficiency. 


The Washoe language was first described in “A Grammar of the Washo Language” by William H. Jacobsen, Jr. in a University of California, Berkeley PhD dissertation and this remains the sole complete description of the language. There is no significant dialect variation. (Jacobsen’s lifelong work with Washo is described at the University of Nevada Oral History Program.)

Washoe Documentation Project


Tribal history extends an estimated 9,000 years in the Lake Tahoe Basin and adjacent east and west slopes and valleys of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Tribal elders say this tribe have always been in their homelands, since time immemorial.

A tribal legend states that when the Maker scattered the seeds of humanity a few were left over. With all other areas taken he gave the Washoe a place he had saved for himself, Lake Tahoe. He knew they would protect this special place, as they have for over 9,000 years.

For over 400 generations Lake Tahoe has been the center of Washoe life. It’s crystal waters supported all living things including the Washoe People. In the early spring, Washoe families would gather at Tahoe to hunt and fish, celebrate the end of Winter and give thanks to the Maker.

The family unit was the strength of the Washoe Tribe. In the days before Europeon contact, family groups lived in all areas of Washoe Lands. Spring and Summer were spent at Tahoe and in the high Mountains. In the Fall they gathered in the lower Mountains to harvest Pine Nuts. This was also a time of celebration and the reaffirmation of Tribal unity. Winters were spent in the lower valleys to the East, valleys which now hold the Reno/Sparks, Carson City, and Minden/Gardnerville areas.

Bands, Gens, and Clans

Traditionally, the tribe included three geographic bands of Washoe: the Welmelti (northern band), Hungalelti (southern band), and the Pauwalu (valley people).

The Northern Washoe occupied Honey Lake, Sierra Valley, Donner Lake, Truckee Meadows, Washoe Valley, Eagle Valley (Carson City). The Eastern Washoe lived in the area around Carson Valley (Gardnerville, Minden). The Southern Washoe made their home in Woodfords and Markleeville area and south of Lake Tahoe.

Today, the tribe is organized in communities. Stewart, Carson, and Dresslerville are in Nevada, and Woodford is in California. There is also a Washoe community located within the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.

Off-Reservation refers to the Off-Reservation tribal community that is spread out throughout the United States and includes all the Washoe people who do not reside on a reservation.

Washoe Ranch is a 95-acre (380,000 m2) ranch in Carson Valley that was purchased by the tribe in 1938 and 1940. There the tribe collectively raised hogs, sheep, and a herd of dairy cows. They grew potatoes and peaches. When farm production decreased in the 1950s, the land was temporarily leased to non-Native farmers.

Related Tribes:

Traditional Allies:

Traditional Enemies:

The Washoe people and the neighboring Northern Paiute people were culturally and linguistically very different, and they sometimes came into conflict.  

Ceremonies / Dances:

The Pine Nut Dance and girls’ puberty rites remain very important ceremonies. 

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts:




In summer, the Washo built a semi-circular shelter that was open on one side and had no roof. It served mainly as a wind break. In winter they built conical bark slab houses that were sometimes built over a semi-subteranian pit which had a stone fire pit in the center.


The Washoe were hunter-gatherers. The Washoe people lived a seasonal life of hunting and plant gathering. Summer was spent at Lake Tahoe, and the surrounding environments, hunting, fishing, and collecting medicinal plants, roots, and berries for the winter season. Fall was spent in the Pine Nut Mountains gathering and celebrating the pine nut harvest, a staple food source. Winter and spring found the Washoe Tribe in the lower elevations.

Plants Harvested by the Washoe Indians

Economy Today:

The tribe operates a smoke shop and a gas station.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

Burial Customs:

Wedding Customs


Washoe Chiefs & Famous People:

Catastrophic Events:

Tribe History:

This aboriginal area was positioned directly in the path of explorers, immigrants, and gold-seekers that were bound for California in the United States’ westward migration.  The total occupation of the Washoe peoples’ former lands took only a few short years.

The last armed conflict with the Washoes and non-Indians was the “Potato War” of 1857, when starving Washoes were killed for gathering potatoes from a European-American farm near Honey Lake in California.

In the News:

Further Reading:


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