The Paiute Reservation consists of ten separate land parcels located in four southwestern Utah counties. The Cedar, Indian Peaks, and Paiute Indian bands live on 2,922 acres in Iron County; the Kanosh Band owns 1,342 acres in Millard County; 1,274 acres belong to the Koosharem Band in Sevier County; and the Shivwits Band owns the largest parcel of land, 28, 229 acres in Washington County. As of 2006, the total number of tribal members among the five bands was 840.
Prior to their contact with Europeans the Paiutes’ aboriginal land covered an area of more than thirty million acres—from southern California to southern Nevada, south-central Utah, and northern Arizona. Their mobile lifestyle included moving frequently, primarily according to the seasons and plant harvests and animal migration patterns. They lived in independent groups of three to five households. Major decisions were made in council meetings. The traditional Paiute leader, called niave, offered advice and suggestions at council meetings and would later work to carry out the council's decisions.
Through the mid-1800s the Paiutes had encountered only a few Euro-Americans, primarily traders, travelers, and trappers. Mormons colonization efforts in the area began in 1851, and by the end of 1858, Mormons had established eleven settlements in Southern Paiute territory. Although the Mormons thought of the Indians as both a chosen and a cursed people, they did not necessarily try to convert the Paiutes immediately.
One of the most controversial events involving the Paiute Indians happened in 1857 at Mountain Meadows, known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Although the Paiute tribe asserts that there were no tribal members present or involved in the massacre, the Mormon settlers involved always insisted they were there. The common history declares that the Paiute Indians initially attacked a wagon train heading west, and after the emigrants had repelled them Mormon settlers approached them under a flag of truce. After convincing the emigrants to give up their weapons, the settlers led the wagon train to a secluded spot where they subsequently slaughtered most of the emigrants. Here again the Mormon settlers claimed that Paiute Indians took part in the treachery. Many aspects of the event are still shrouded in mystery; however, it is important to stress that Paiute oral tradition strongly indicates that the Paiutes did not participate in either the initial attack or the following massacre.
The first Paiute reservation was established in 1891 on the Santa Clara River west of St. George. The reservation was formally recognized by the government in 1903. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson issued an order which expanded the size of the reservation to its current 26,880 acres. Three other Paiute reservations soon followed. On the reservations, the Paiutes were often dependent on Mormon charity and the federal government’s good will. The new reservations would prove to be too small and lack the resources needed for the Paiutes to sustain themselves.
Prior to 1954, each band (except the Cedar Band) had its own separate reservation and functioning tribal government. However, under the termination policy of the early 1950s, these Bands were “terminated” from federal recognition and therefore ineligible for federal support. Termination was a government policy to enforce assimilation and acculturation among Indian tribes. There were many reports indicating that the Paiute tribe was not prepared for termination, and it is still a mystery as to why they were selected to be part of the program. The results of termination had devastating social and economic consequences on the Paiute tribe. Because of lack of health resources, nearly one-half of all tribal members died during the period between 1954 and 1980. Lack of adequate income to meet their needs resulted in the inability to pay property taxes, and about 15,000 acres of former reservation lands were lost. Pride and culture diminished dramatically.
In 1975 the Paiutes began efforts to regain federal recognition, and in 1980 Congress restored the federal trust relationship to the five bands, which was reorganized as the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.
Language and Culture
The Southern Paiute language is one of the northern Numic branches of the large Uto-Aztecan language family. Paiutes often prayed and conducted rituals to influence the spirits of nature and to show respect and gratitude to them. The Paiutes' believed that there was one most-powerful spirit being, often called simply the "one who made the earth". Many parts of the natural world were visible aspects of this spirit.
These included the sun, to which most Paiutes prayed at sunrise, noon, and sunset; and the Coyote and Wolf, seeing the good and virtuous Wolf and wicked and silly Coyote as two necessary sides of the same all-powerful creator. There were other supernatural beings also part of the Paiutes’ world, such as the Thunder People and Water Babies.
The Paiutes enjoyed different gambling games. Most notable was the hand "bone" game, which is still played today. Another popular gambling game was played with stick dice. Paiute women were very skilled basketmakers. Working with various reeds, grasses, bark fibers, or twigs, they made many items used in everyday life: cradles, mats, seed beaters, hats, and above all, baskets. Baskets served as water jars, dishes, and containers.
Education has always been and continues to be a high priority with the Paiutes. After the tribes’ restoration they immediately hired a director of tribal education. Desire for education is evident: of those between eighteen and forty years of age, 71 percent have participated in higher education or vocational training.