Protecting trees for an area in White Pine County’s Spring Valley known as the Swamp Cedars, and to the Native peoples as Bahsahwahbee or “Sacred Water Valley,” is of great importance to Nevada tribal leaders and activists who are proposing another national monument in the Silver State.
In 2021, Indigenous Tribes in Nevada called on the state to strengthen protections for most of the Swamp Cedars, which are a ecologically-unique grove of Rocky Mountain Juniper trees. With 14,175 acres, generally unprotected from things such as drought and over-pumping of groundwater, only 3,200 acres of the Swamp Cedars were appropriated as an area of critical environmental concern under the BLM.
In 2017, the Goshute, Ely, and Duckwater tribes won recognition of the site as a Traditional Cultural Property Designation from the National Park Service, which placed the site on the National Register of Historic Places. But that designation provides little to no legal protections for the area. “It’s important for us to protect these areas for the Native American people to not only educate our youth, but also educate the general public about what truly happened here and why it’s significant,” said Warren Graham, Chairman of the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe.
The land itself not only provides a ceremonial place for tribes to converge, pray, and rejoice but also serves as a living memorial for three 19th-century massacres where hundreds of the Shoshone were killed by settlers and military. Native peoples believe that for each ancestor that was killed during the massacres, a tree grew in their place. Rupert Steele, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, was quoted as saying these profound words; “Just like a seed, each one of those Swamp Cedars was fertilized by one of those who were massacred there. Through that, we live spiritually by connecting with Mother Earth, and to destroy it would be an act of genocide.”
Ironically, Kyle Roerink with Great Basin Water Network told National Geographic…”This growth of Rocky Mountain Junipers (swamp cedars) should be at 8,000 ft. or above elevation, and these are growing at 5,000 ft. Wrong elevation, wrong soil, complete wrong habitat. No one understands why they grew here nor how they continue to survive.” Tribal leaders believe the trees have a special connection to their forefathers.
Delaine Spilsbury, an Ely Shoshone elder, has been fighting for the protection of the trees for approx. 30 plus years. She is a descendant of one of the two girls who survived the 1897 massacre, and was quoted as saying; “These trees grew where their bodies fell. We visit with our relatives whose spirits are still in those trees. We’re concerned those trees are just going to dry up, and take our ancestor’s spirits with them.”
A final letter of support was approved by the White Pine County Board of Commissioners regarding the proposed Swamp Cedars/Bahsahwahbee National Monument in Spring Valley, along with both Nevada Senators asking the Interior Department to consider it.
Deb Haaland, Interior Secretary, has said “the Biden administration will give this monument their close attention.” Let us hope that this important endeavor does not fall on deaf ears, but becomes a reality for the Native American Tribes of Nevada.