OK, so we’ve been guilty of this as much as anyone. We’ve talked quite a bit about the history of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, or at least, from the perspective of how California’s longest straw has impacted ranchers, environments, and Angelenos. Like many other institutions, however, we haven’t done justice to telling the story of the earliest settlers: the indigenous American Indians.
The Owens Valley Paiute lived throughout the Owens Valley until Western settlers began to encroach into the space. Like many other Native Americans, the Owens Valley Paiute were pushed further and further aside until they were relocated to a handful of reservations in the valley; Lone Pine, Fort Independence, Big Pine, and Bishop.
You may notice one thing those four reservations have in common: they are all along the Los Angeles Aqueduct. In fact, if you travel along Highway 395 between Olancha and Lee Vining, you will drive through each of these communities.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power plays a hefty role in the lives of the Native Americans who live hundreds of miles from LA. While the LADWP doesn’t own the reservations the Owens Valley Paiute live on (this land is owned by the federal government), the LADWP does own the water rights, and can limit the amount of water the people use.
On a more personal note, the Owens Valley Paiute we connected with while filming The Longest Straw have been some of the most generous, gracious people we’ve had the pleasure of working with. We interviewed several Paiutes, were invited to attend and film some of their cultural events, and Sam spent Independence Day on the Big Pine Paiute reservation with a very welcoming and warm family. Besides supporting our film, the Owens Valley Paiute also welcomed participants in the Walking Water event. The Owens Valley Paiute demonstrate a community spirit that is nothing short of inspiring.
November is Native American Heritage Month, but one month is a very limited amount of time to honor and raise awareness of people who have been dealt a particularly harsh hand by history. The Owens Valley Paiute have a story far too rich to be explained in this blog post, and they are but one of many indigenous American voices. Our challenge to you: study the history of your home, especially as pertains to its original inhabitants. You may be shocked at what you discover.