by Taylor Patterson Tribal Affairs Consultant to the Amargosa Conservancy
The desert has always represented magic to me.
I would sit wide-eyed while my mom regaled tales of dragonflies at the Shoshone pool and hikes in the Kingston Range. I would daydream about what it must have been like when the Woolly Mammoth, who now calls the Shoshone Museum home, roamed the land. My childhood was filled with trips to take hot baths in Tecopa and learning about every different type of rock and plant throughout the Amargosa Basin.
I was also introduced to the magic of community through the Amargosa. I vividly remember trips to Shoshone Days and China Ranch where everyone seemed to know my family.
“Is my mom some kind of celebrity?” I would think to myself.
My grandpa, Donald Tom, was in a picture in the Shoshone Museum after all; a claim to fame that I still often brag about. What my young mind couldn’t quite understand was this was a place where everyone knew each other and operated like one big family; a big stretch from where I lived in Las Vegas. My family had called this tight knit community home for a long time. My grandma, Helen Tom née Howell, was born next to the Amargosa River in Shoshone. While this area is the ancestral land of the Timbisha Shoshone, it has also been home to a band of scattered Southern Paiutes like my grandma. After graduating from Indian School, my grandparents returned to the area where my Grandpa worked the mines and my Grandma worked at the High School.
In my work as the Executive Director of Native Voters Alliance Nevada, I think a lot about the lessons my mother taught me about the desert. In a land that settlers found inhospitable, our people thrived. Our people know that the land is alive and that it gives back whatever we give to it. We are a part of the cycle of nature, not above it. Settlers came to conquer the land but found what we always knew, the land cannot be conquered.
I’m lucky to live in a time that values input from Tribal members. Everyone from government agencies to non-profit organizations are looking for ways to uplift the voices of Indigenous people. This is a privilege that my ancestors could have only dreamed of having. I’m honored to use that privilege to change the way people not only see the Mojave Desert but see Indigenous people. We are not a thing of the past. We are still here and we are still stewarding the land as the many generations before us did since time immemorial.
Taylor Patterson is a Tribal Affairs Consultant to the Amargosa Conservancy