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At Nevada interfaith event, Indigenous religious practices shared, discussed

Brian Melendez
Brian Melendez

Even with 27 tribal groups of different types in Nevada, not a lot is known by the general public about how these communities live and work. But even less is known about their religious beliefs.

That became more apparent late last year when President Joe Biden promised that an area in Southern Nevada — Spirit Mountain, considered sacred to Native Americans — will be designated a national monument.

Working toward more understanding for those in and outside of the Indigenous community, Brian Melendez, CEO of Tribal Minds, regularly writes about those different spiritual practices and beliefs.

He and Nevada Public Radio’s indigenous affairs reporter, Miles Brady, were at an interfaith event at the Reno Buddhist Center on New Year's Eve and spoke about traditional spirituality—and how that is changing.


On how the event got started

There is an individual in his name is Rajon Zed, a Hindu statesman. And he is he lives in Reno, Nevada, but he is pretty much the operator and the organizer for the interfaith communities. And so a lot of these types of events that are happening throughout the Reno-Sparks area, Rajon is working to bring together all of these individuals to be representative in certain spaces. As far as the New Year's event, the Buddhist center, I believe that's always been at the Buddhist center. I don't think that's ever been in other places as far as I'm aware. But Rajon Zed has put together a collaborative group of people. So what he does is, it all stems from a periodical. So in the Reno Gazette-Journal every Sunday, there is a segment in that Sunday paper called The Faith Forum. And this is something that Rajan spearheaded, in his space through the Hindu religion, and he put together this group of people. And he thought, in this space, that it would be necessary to collaborate on these ideas when it comes to belief systems, ideology, scriptures and things of that nature. Because from a spiritual standpoint, anybody who's in any type of practice whatsoever, or even non-practice when they have conversations about content, and they bounce that discussion off another believer of some sorts, you make it an entirely different perspective or belief system. And so those thoughts and concepts aren't always conflicting. Sometimes they're very, very similar. And sometimes they're entertaining or they're amusing, or they are prolific.

So what Rajon did was, he brought together this assortment of people, he looked at all of these different belief systems and non-belief systems, you know, and he put it all together and said, 'Look, we're going to pose a question.' And generally these questions are, they're either controversial, or they're something that's relevant in the mainstream media. It's something that's happening right now. So a lot of times it's current events. So it could be an issue, he'll throw one-liner out there, and he'll say, 'Look, what is your belief think about XYZ?' And everybody has a really limited time to answer this and really give their specific ideas on this concept. So when they put all these things together, this is kind of how it came about. So I've been participating in the Faith Forum as a writer for the periodical so the the paradox, the periodicals are released every week. So I've been writing off and on but mostly on for about eight years now.

On how Native spiritual practices fit in with global organized faith

I myself, I'm a practical realist, when it comes to my belief systems, right? … When I look at my people's things, I understand the conjecture that am I a tribal spiritualist, based upon what I imagine our ancestors were doing 100 years ago? Or was it 500 years ago? Or was it 1,500 years ago, or 3,000 years ago? So I think that there's a lot of transition and variation all across the board. But I understand those things as a modern person. And so I look at it based upon the spirituality aspect, in the in the pragmatism, that's there. And also, I'm a fervent believer of science. And I look at the rational and the irrational concepts of what we're doing. And I look at it is as far as logic and reason. I put all of those things together with what I've learned as an academic, what I've learned as a child of the reservation, what I've learned from my people, and I put all those things together on a plate, and I look around at it, and I determined for myself based upon several factors, whether or not I want to do this, whether or not I believe this, whether or not I don't believe this. And so then I put together some assessment, and then I do the best I can to get it back out to the people.

So when I look at things of that nature, it's really, I can only do it from what my worldview is, and my experiences tell me. Now granted, there are lots of things that I've seen, done, experienced, participate in, that I don't believe in, I don't participate in right. And just because my people told me something doesn't mean I believe that either, right? So just because the university told me something, I don't believe it just because, like, there's a lot of things that come with the practice of being involved in the community and the spirituality that changed a lot of this. And I think as far as like the writing and the concepts, it all changes.

'People don't know what they don't know'

When we're in a place like Nevada, Nevada is the sixth largest Native-populated state in the nation. There are people that live in Nevada their whole lives and don't know that right, there's people that live in the city of Reno or Clark County, and have no idea that there's large Indigenous populations around and they just kind of function every day, and they just go through with this unknowing of what that even means. So I think that sometimes, if there's not representation for the people, I think that that's where things get more … I think their feelings get hurt. I think people feel put off, I feel that people don't feel like anyone's paying attention them, especially from a tribal perspective, right? So when you're looking at everybody else outside of the reservation, these community spaces, you're almost wondering, Well, why don't they think about us? Why don't they care about us? Why don't they talk to us? Why? Why do we feel so alone? Why are we so alone in so many ways? And then it's like, well, why do they only want us to perform? Why do they only want us to show up in these fluorescence and sing songs and dance in front of the people? Why do they only care about us in November? Why does this only matter for some people at some time?

I try to step back from that as much as I can. And I look at it from a position as a community member, as a leader, as a relative, and I say, look, some people don't know what they don't know, which includes us, right? And so when you when people don't know what they don't know, then that's a great opportunity to educate, inform, be available.

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(Editor's note: Miles is no longer a member of our staff, but you can still enjoy their contributions here.)