It has been noted that “neither the written word nor the course of historical events have been kind to the Southern Paiutes.”[1] Nevertheless, the story of the Shivwits Band of Paiutes is one of determined resilience in the face of relentless challenges and broken promises.

Since time immemorial, groups of Southern Paiutes have lived in an area encompassing more than 30 million acres making up what is now southern Utah, northern Arizona, southern Nevada, and southeastern California. Today, these groups are federally recognized tribes known as the Shivwits, Cedar, Indian Peaks, Kanosh and Koosharem Bands of Paiutes, all based in southern Utah.

The Shivwits Band has always been known for hunting, fishing, and gathering, and being “closely tied to the awe-inspiring land which surrounded them.”[2] They sought to live close to water and in addition to the over 96 species of edible plants[3] they used for food and medicinal purposes, were able to grow numerous crops. Theirs was a tranquil existence, uninterrupted until the arrival Euro-Americans in the mid-1800s. These passers-through were typically traders and trappers traveling the Old Spanish Trail which went right through Paiute territory. 

The first official contact between the U.S. government and the Paiute tribes was in 1856 when George W. Armstrong visited the area on assignment to observe and investigate the condition of the Paiutes. After spending time among them, he recommended that suitable farmlands be kept as reserves for the Bands, though no U.S. government action was taken at that time to establish reservation lands for the Shivwits or any other Paiute band. 

Soon after Armstrong’s visit, the federal government tried to consolidate all the Native Americans in Utah onto one reservation, a policy advocated by the Utah settlers. As part of this consolidation effort, a treaty was negotiated with a few southern Paiute bands in 1865. The treaty became known as the Spanish Fork Treaty, and on June 18, 1865, was signed by the Utes. By this Treaty, the southern Utah Paiutes were to move to the Uintah Reservation with other Utah Indians. However, following the treaty, the government seemed to forget about the Paiutes. The treaty was never ratified by the Senate and its terms were not implemented; the Paiutes never left their ancestral homelands.

Then in 1873, a commission headed by John Wesley Powell and G.W. Ingalls was sent to find reservation sites for the tribes that had not relocated to the Uintah Reservation as contemplated by the 1865 Spanish Fork Treaty. This commission concluded that it was not feasible to establish a reservation for each Tribe within its own territorial area, and there was not enough good agricultural land left unoccupied by the white settlers to establish one single reservation in southern Utah. The Southern Paiutes were left with the choice of moving to the recently established Moapa Reservation in Nevada or going without a reservation. Some Paiutes moved to Moapa, but again, most, including the Shivwits Band, remained in their traditional areas.

At last, in 1891, Congress authorized the purchase of improvements on lands along the Santa Clara River in St. George for the Shivwits Band of Paiutes. This land was formally established as a Reservation for the Shivwits Band by the Secretary of the Interior in 1903, and later enlarged by executive order in 1916 and by Congress in 1937.

Notably, the only Southern Paiute Bands that were formally organized pursuant to the Indian Reorganization Act (June 18, 1934) (IRA)[1], were the Shivwits and Kanosh Bands. The Shivwits Band voted to accept the IRA on November 17, 1935. In 1940, the Shivwits Band established its own federally-approved constitution and bylaws[2] under the Indian Reorganization Act, becoming a separate federally recognized Indian tribe.

In 1954, the federal government terminated each Paiute Band when Public Law 762 was passed[3]. Termination meant the loss of a trust relationship, the loss of federal welfare, education, health and employment assistance, and the dissolution of what sovereignty the Shivwits Band had left. The Shivwits Band forged onward with its trademark resilience; performing self-governing functions, through Band-elected representatives or in meetings of the Band’s general membership. Remarkably, the Shivwits Band was able to retain ownership of its lands, leasing the lands to ranchers.

On April 3, 1980, under President Jimmy Carter, Congress passed the Paiute Restoration Act, P.L. 96-227, 94 Stat. 317, reestablishing the trust relationship[4] between the federal government and the Shivwits, Kanosh, Koosharem, and Indian Peaks Bands of Paiute Indians of Utah, and restored or confirmed with respect to the Cedar Band of Paiute Indians of Utah. By the Paiute Restoration Act of 1980, Congress restored each of the terminated Bands to pre-termination status—separate federally recognized Indian tribes—and made the Bands eligible again for federal services[5].

The Restoration Act required the election of an Interim Tribal Council, to be a temporary (six month) common governing body for all of the restored Bands. The Interim Tribal Council was an administrative entity used for the logistical convenience of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, mirroring the familiar governance structure of a non-profit corporation that had been established during termination to preserve assets of the terminated Bands. Through the Interim Tribal Council, the Bands chose to delegate certain authorities to the ‘Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah’ (PITU), an administrative organization able to exercise authority as delegated by the Bands.

In 1981, the five restored Bands of Paiute Indians agreed to adopt a common, joint-governance constitution under the Indian Reorganization Act. By the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Constitution[1], the Bands delegated some authority to a central, joint Tribal Council made up of one representative from each Band. As a result, the Shivwits Band of Paiutes has been subject to the joint-governance Constitution. Each Band also retained its own Band Council and By Laws[2] that govern affairs on each Band’s own Reservation.

Restoring a Tribe isn’t as simple as passing an act of Congress, and the Shivwits Band continues its dedicated efforts to strengthen its sovereignty. The Shivwits Band currently has 311 members, governed by the Shivwits Band Council. The Shivwits Band’s Reservation includes approximately 28,000 acres of land located in Washington County, UT, with a Congressionally-confirmed water right[3] of approximately 4,000 acre/feet per year.

[1] A History of Utah’s American Indians, edited by Forrest Cuch, 2003, p. 123.

[2] Nuwuvi: A Southern Paiute History, published by the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, 1976, p. 5. 

[3] See Footnote 1

[4] Or the Wheeler-Howard Act, 48 Stat. 987

[5] The Constitution and By-laws of the Shivwits Band of Paiute Indians of the Shivwits Reservation of Utah was approved by the Secretary of the Interior under the IRA on March 21, 1940. 1940.03.21 Shivwits Constitution and Bylaws.pdf

[6] 68 Stat. 1099.

[7] “The Federal trust relationship is restored to the Shivwits Band of Paiute Indians of Utah.” 94 Stat. 317, Section 3(a). 1980 Restoration Act (Public Law 96-227) April 3 1980.pdf

[8] “The tribe and members of the tribe shall be eligible for all Federal services and benefits furnished to federally recognized tribes.” 94 Stat. 317, Section 3(a). 1980 Restoration Act (Public Law 96-227) April 3 1980.pdf

[9]  Constitution of the PITU July 1991.pdf 

[10] Shivwits Band of Paiutes Bylaws.pdf

[11] Shivwits Band of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Water Rights Settlement Act, 114 Stat 737, August 18, 2000 Shivwits Band Water Rights Settlement Act (114 Stat. 737).pdf