Woman in History-Joann Smokey

Peak Back: JoAnn Smokey Martinez 1921-2006

Periodically we proudly look back to honor the women that shaped Carson Valley into the relaxed and reachable destination that it is now. With some help from the Douglas County Historical Society and their Van Sickle Research Library, we are happy to bring you their stories. From pioneers to writers, Carson Valley has been home to many influential women and we don’t see that changing anytime soon.

The next woman we are pleased to recognize has deep ancestral roots in the Carson Valley that go back many generations. A member of the Washoe Tribe, JoAnn Smokey Martinez, and the Smokey family come from the original inhabitants of Lake Tahoe (an estimated 6,000 years ago).

After white settlement in the valley, JoAnn’s family lived and worked at the Dangberg Ranch until 1927 when they joined other Washoe families and moved to the newly established Dresslerville Indian Colony. JoAnn went to school there in a one-room school where she learned to play the piano. She went to high school at Stewart Indian School in Carson City and later received nursing training in Las Vegas. When Housing and Urban Development (HUD) built new homes in Dresslerville, JoAnn returned and worked as a cook for the Tribal Senior Center. She was a member of the Senior Site Council and with other board members, established a scholarship fund to reward Washoe eighth grade graduates for academic excellence.

JoAnn learned to weave baskets and with practice, became a Master basket weaver. She taught young Tribal members how to collect, process, and weave traditional baby baskets and winnowing trays. For her tireless efforts in teaching others the basket-making art, JoAnn and her sister, Theresa, received the “Governor’s Excellence in Folk Arts Award” from Gov. Bob Miller. The sisters also met President Bill Clinton during the 1997 Lake Tahoe Presidential forum where they spoke of the importance of Lake Tahoe to the Washoe people.

The sisters worked as a team and were often called upon to give traditional Washoe prayers at governmental functions and local gatherings. Theresa offered the prayer in Washoe and JoAnn translated to English. From 1988 to 2005, JoAnn taught public school children about Washoe baskets during the Wa-Pai-Shone cultural program, sponsored by the Douglas County School District and hosted by a different elementary school each year. She was a favorite of children and teachers alike because of her warmth and kindness while sharing her culture.

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