The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitor Center

Northern Paiute Lifeways

Preserving and adapting has been key to the history and current lifestyle of the Northern Paiute people. They were hunters and gatherers, ranging across a vast landscape to find food.

The Northern Paiutes lived together as bands, named according to the food found in the territory they occupied. The Pyramid Lake band is known as the “Kooyooe Tukaddu,” the Cui-ui Eaters. Cui-ui are the ancient fish found in Pyramid Lake (source: Ralph Burns).  Northern Pauites no longer hunt and gather over the vast landscape, but they maintain the skills that were necessary to that lifeway: hunting with bow and arrow, fishing, making baskets and cradle boards, gathering utilizing pine nuts.  They have adapted to modern life by managing activities (fishing, hunting and recreation) on the land and water of the Pyramid Lake Reservation.

The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitor Center, which was dedicated in 1998, is housed in a beautiful building sitting on a rise overlooking the town of Nixon. The Paiute language has no word for museum. They use the phrase Ki Nasoomoowakwatoo, meaning, “Never to be Forgotten,” to describe the place that holds some of the special objects of their history and lifeways. (source: Billie Jean Guerrero)

Pyramid Lake

pyramid lake

Pyramid Lake is large, 27 miles long and 4 to 11 miles wide, with a maximum depth of 356 feet. It is a desert terminal lake: water flows in but there is no natural outlet. (source: Pyramid Lake fisheries)


In 1997, the Paiute language was dying. Ralph Burns, who had learned Paiute as a child, worked to re-learn the language. It was an oral tradition and Elder Burns worked with a UNR linguist to create a written form. Paiute is now taught in Washoe County schools as a language option.

Padaki’e Pongetano: “Raccoon and Skunk”

They say that a long, long time ago there was two good friends, the skunk and the raccoon. One morning the skunk woke up and went and visited the raccoon. And asked him, “What shall we do today?” And before the raccoon could answer, the skunk said, “Let’s go fishing.” Finally, the raccoon agreed. So they both made their way down to the river. And when they got on the river’s edge, they built a fire to cook their fish on and then they both started fishing. The raccoon, he was a good fisherman. He started catching a lot of fish. The skunk, he didn’t catch anything so he started getting mad. After they fished for awhile, the raccoon, he said to the skunk, “Maybe we should quit now. Look, our fish is piling up on the bank there. The skunk didn’t answer ‘cause he was still mad. After they fished for a while longer, the raccoon said “I’m gonna go get some more wood. You can clean the fish.” So the raccoon left to get some more wood and that’s when the skunk really became upset. So the skunk started doing everything to the fish. He started kicking them around, throwing them around, stabbing them around. He still was doing this when the raccoon returned with wood. And the raccoon asked the skunk, “What are you doing?” And the skunk started arguing with him. And they really got into a heated argument. And then they started fighting and that’s when the skunk slapped the raccoon in the face. And the raccoon pushed the skunk, the skunk landed in the fire. And that’s where he burned his back. That’s why still today, the skunk’s still got his white stripe on his back and he smells bad. And the raccoon, he’s still got his black eyes. That’s where the story ends.

—Story told by Ralph Burns