Northern Paiute - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. In the pre- and immediately postcontact periods, the Northern Paiute lived by hunting a variety of large and small game, gathering Numerous vegetable products, and fishing where possible. Local seasonal rounds were conditioned by the particular mix of resources present. Names of subgroups (such as "trout eaters") often reflected a common subsistence item, but nowhere was the named resource used to the exclusion of a mix of others. Some people today hunt and collect a few of their former resources, but for the most part, they are engaged in ranching and wage labor and thus purchase food. Although the large reservations support some agriculture, most of it is oriented toward hay and grain production to feed cattle. Except for dogs, there were no domesticated animals in aboriginal times. Today, horses are common in areas where cattle ranching is possible, and a number of people keep them as pleasure animals.

Industrial Arts. Aboriginal arts included extensive work in basketry, and less extensively in crafts such as bead making, feather work, and stone sculpture. Baskets were primarily utilitarian, being used in harvesting and processing plant foods, storage of food and water, trapping fish and birds, and so on. Beads were made of duck bones, local shells, and shells traded into the region from the west. Feather working was related to that complex in California and included the manufacture of mosaic headbands and belts and dance outfits. Stone sculpture was confined to smoking pipes and small effigies. Pottery was present only in Owens Valley. In the historic period, work in buckskin and glass beads became prominent, as the influence of the Plains Culture filtered into the region from the north. Presently basketry, hide working, and beading are the most common, although all except beading have Declined within the past twenty years.

Trade. An active trade in shells was maintained in aboriginal times with groups in California. Obsidian trafficking was also important internally, as major sources were not equally distributed. Some trade in pinenuts for acorns occurred across the Sierra Nevada. In historic times, people sold or traded buckskin gloves and wash and sewing baskets to ranchers and townspeople. An active market in fine basketry developed for the Mono Lake and Owens Valley people from the turn of the century to the 1930s.

Division of Labor. In the precontact period, men were hunters and fishermen, and women, plant food gatherers. Women prepared foods and reared the children, although the latter was also the province of grandparents. Both sexes harvested pinenuts and cooperated in house building. In historic times, men have taken primary responsibility for ranching duties. Wage labor was done about equally by the sexes in early historic times as well as at present.

Land Tenure. Lands were not considered to be private property in aboriginal times, but rather for the use of all Northern Paiute. Subgroups exercised some rights to hunt, fish, and gather in their districts, with people from outside usually required to ask permission of the local group. Usufruct rights occurred, especially in Owens Valley and the Central Northern Paiute area. Rights to harvest piñons in certain tracts, and to erect fishing platforms or game traps at certain locations, were included. In Owens Valley, these rights extended to harvesting wild seed tracts, especially those purposefully irrigated. A few people today attempt to maintain piñon rights. Otherwise, land tenure on reservations and colonies is determined by tribal and federal regulations.

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