Desert Projects

Funeral Procession for a Dead Lake

Nevada 2010

Winnemucca Lake was located in the Northwest of Nevada, and was fed by the overflow of Pyramid Lake. This area was a rich and vibrant habitat for wildlife, fish, birds and various marsh and meadow species. In 1903 as part of the Newlands Reclamation Act, the Derby Dam was built on the Truckee River redirecting water to support agriculture in the Fallon and Fernley areas. This caused the water level of Pyramid Lake to decrease considerably, and eventually no water would flow to Winnemucca Lake. In addition, the building of State Highway 447 led to the complete desiccation of the lake by 1939.

In the summer of 2010 I enacted a ceremony to pay tribute to Winnemucca Lake and the animal and plant species that no longer inhabit it. This ritual incorporated Native American traditions as well as other cultures, since the problem of desertification is a global phenomenon. A procession was led by a woman dressed in traditional Western mourning garb followed by a group of mourners carrying signs depicting the flora and fauna that once occupied the area. The procession crossed the dry lakebed and convened in a circle where a eulogy for the lake was recited in the language of the native Paiute Indians. This was followed by the digging of a hole, acting as a symbolic burial site into which each procession member poured a bowl of water. The ceremony culminated in the burning of a pyre made from the wooden signs.

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