Puaxant tuvip: Powerlands Southern Paiute cultural landscapes and pilgrimage trails

Southern Paiute people stipulate that when the world was formed, the Creator gave them sole possession of the lands that constitute the traditional Southern Paiute nation and the Creator gave them the responsibilities to tend to the land, resources, and each other. As a result, from these stewardship duties, Southern Paiute people developed complex socio-ecological methods for promoting and maintaining both ecological and spiritual balance. One method was used by medicine people or Puha'gants and it involved them traveling to special ceremonial areas to acquire knowledge and power. These journeys required Puha'gants to undergo intense purification and preparation and they traveled along designated trails to places far away from their home communities. The pilgrimage process allowed the pilgrims to gain knowledge and power at their destination places to use in ceremonies to restore balance and promote sustainability in their home communities.

My dissertation study examines six pilgrimage trails across Southern Paiute territory in an effort to understand this process. As a way to frame my discussion, this analysis draws upon four concepts--(1) Southern Paiute place logic, (2) cultural landscapes, (3) pilgrimage, and (4) communitas. For trail systems under study, I examine the types of places visited and their associated performance characteristics, and specifically the types of relationships pilgrims, or Puhahivats with each other, the places visited, and objects used.


Kathleen Van Vlack


Richard Stoffle






College of Social and Behavioral Sciences