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Paiute profiles: Keeping culture alive

First Published      Last Updated May 24 2015 10:02 am


Dorena Martineau » Petroglyphs at Parowan Gap a place of reverence.

Editor's note: This is one in a series of profiles of members of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah. Find the full story here.

On a May evening, the setting sun cuts through the perfect east-west canyon that is Parowan Gap. The warm light on the pink rock makes a distant memory of the hail and lightning that crashed down on the Gap one night earlier, canceling a tour of the elaborate petroglyph site.

The weather wasn't bad luck or timing, explains Dorena Martineau, the Paiute tribe's cultural resources specialist. Parowan Gap is an ancient crossroads, with markings made by multiple tribes as they came and went over centuries. The desert thunderstorm may have been their reminder that some powers are higher than our own plans, Martineau says.




"It just wasn't meant to happen last night," she says. "The spirits who have been here over time are still here. They're still around. That's why you have to be respectful."

For Martineau, respect means listening — not just to the whispers of spirits in thunder, but to the descendants of those who created so many cultural landmarks of southwest Utah.

Too often, she says, the voices of the Paiute are ignored in conversations about their own heritage.

Here at the Gap, hundreds of visitors gather every summer solstice at sunset, bringing lawn chairs to a special viewing spot. Many of the "solstice people," as Martineau calls them, believe the petroglyphs relate to astronomy.

Last year Martineau went to the gathering to share the Paiute interpretation of the markings — that they depict a group's long journey through harsh territory, ending with the death of their leader. There is no particular Paiute tradition of celebrating solstice, she told them.

But the solstice people had their own festivities underway.

"I don't think they were paying attention," she says. "We can't make them believe us. They have their version.

"It is pretty here at sunset," she concedes.

Soon Martineau's son, Kwaiuv, arrives at the Gap with his 2-year-old, Aira, who is dressed in her regalia. Martineau sewed the beadwork to depict hummingbirds and teardrops. Aira already is learning traditional dancing. Her father hopes she will compete one day in powwows.

"It'll keep her out of trouble, and she'll make friends around the country," Kwaiuv says. "And she's keeping our culture alive."

Keeping culture alive means both living it and defending it, Martineau says. She recalls a visit to the Doctor Rock, a formation high in the juniper wildlands of central Iron County, which is believed to have healing powers. Martineau and an elder arrived to find it littered with money, pebbles and other items, reportedly left by "New Agers." The tribal elder was distressed.

"He just cleared the whole rock off and said, 'It's losing its power because people are using it wrong,'" Martineau says.

She surveyed the mess and found amid the junk a valuable ring and a photograph: items that may have reflected what Martineau calls "a true purpose."

"I'm sure some of the people who go out really mean what they're saying — and for some of the people it's just like a wishing well," she says.

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