Pine Nuts: ‘The Small Shall Be Strong’ |

Pine Nuts: ‘The Small Shall Be Strong’

Matthew Makley has gifted us an historical account of what has been taken from our Native American Washoe, and what has been given back. His enlightening book, “The Small Shall Be Strong,” might someday be required reading in classrooms within a hundred miles of Lake Tahoe.

Makley begins with an elegant dedication: “For Washoes: past, present and future.”

Then there is this paragraph in the Preface …

“I recall interviewing Washoe Tribal chair Brian Wallace as an eager doctoral student.

“I was transcribing everything he said. At one point he commented, ‘You know, in Washoe country we think when you write something down, you intend to forget it.’

“I wrote that down. After a moment I stopped writing and listened. Chairman Wallace then told me that for Washoe people, history is about place more than time.”

Of course, no book can be complete in mine eyes without a mention of Mark Twain …

“As Blackhawk puts it, pity and disdain informed Twain in just about equal measure.”

Well, to my mind, Blackhawk was right. Our Native American was the one blind spot in Twain’s moral vision. He tried to whitewash this shortcoming by allocating Native Americans the most acreage in heaven in his final work, “Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven.” He also wrote to President Cleveland regarding an appalling policy of some white citizens against Native Americans, and enclosed a clipping from a New Mexico newspaper announcing a $250 reward by Grant County for the scalp of “every hostile renegade Apache killed.” Yet Twain could not undo the disparaging damage done in “Roughing It” …

Many Washoes believe, “Whatever happens to the lake is going to happen to us.” In full disclosure, while swimming in Lake Tahoe myself, I have always been afraid of being eaten by a black crappie.

Over the centuries our Washoes engaged in intensive land-management practices, caring for and harvesting hundreds of edible and medicinal plants. There have never been better stewards of the Tahoe Basin than our Washoe forefathers.

By 1917 Washoes had become foreigners in their own land. Manifest Destiny meant “Native Dispossession,” even, “Native Trespassing.”

Yet despite sustained oppression, there were times for dance and fun. There was even a contest to see who could limbo, so to speak, beneath a large set of antlers, a feat I performed once myself at the Buckhorn Bar at midnight. (You had to be there.)

I love this book. To me, wegeleyu, (the power that surrounds us) god, and mother nature, are different words for the same thing. I think the Washoe and I might agree on that.

Makley, raised at Lake Tahoe and now a professor of history at Metropolitan State University, has a free-flowing style of writing that is pleasing to the non-academic eye. I now have a deeper simpatico for the Washoe than before, and only wish I could have been on the relay team that ran Tahoe trout to Virginia City in four mile sprints.

My only criticism might be that Mr. Makley could have mentioned Mark Twain a few more times without damaging his fine book. In spite of that one shortcoming, I intend to heartily recommend it to Dr. Glass’s History Book Club at our next gathering.

Isn’t it interesting that in a history marked by systems of oppression, we hear about those who have been oppressed — women, African-Americans, Latinos, but we seldom hear about the most oppressed of all, our Native Americans.

Makley’s new book, “The Small Shall Be Strong,” will serve to cast a bright light on this oversight.

While today Darrel Cruz is a strong proponent for Washoe rights, historically the Washoe Tribe never seemed to have a single presiding leader. I mentioned this anomaly to our grandson Levi (age 6) who then asked, “What happened to the boss?” We will ask Levi to read Makley’s excellent book when he is 12, and he will be a better person for it.

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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