Las Vegas Valley Syllabus

Photo of cactus with words: "Being engaged in land as pedagogy as a life practice inevitably means coming face-to-face with the settler colonial authority, surveillance, and violence, because this practice places Indigenous bodies in between settlers and their money." (p. 166). Leanna Betasamosake Simpson, As We Have Always Done

Photo Credit: MotelGeorge & Ken Lund

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Land Acknowledgment

As we gather for the ASHE 2022 Conference, consider taking some time to learn, reflect, and acknowledge that the land and resources we are using to sustain ourselves rightfully belong to Indigenous Peoples who continue to live and thrive all around the Southern Nevada area. We are upon the sacred ancestral land of the Nuwu - Southern Paiute, Wa She Shu - Washoe, Numu - Northern Paiute, Nuwe - Western Shoshone, Hualapai, and Chemehuevi; people who live and thrive all around the state of Nevada. We also highlight and uplift all of Nevada’s 27 sovereign tribal nations.
Photo of Indian Reservations and Colonies of Nevada
We acknowledge the painful history of genocide and settler colonialism that continues to impact Native & Indigenous communities today, and we honor the past, present, and future stewards of this land. We offer gratitude for the land, for those who have stewarded it for generations, and for the opportunity to study, learn, work, and be in community with this land. We encourage everyone in this space to engage in continued learning about the Indigenous peoples who work and live on this land since time immemorial, including the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe and the Moapa Band of Paiutes, and about the historical and present realities of colonialism.

The Las Vegas Pauite Tribe is descended from the Tudinu or "Desert People", ancestors of most of the tribes of Southern Paiutes whose traditional territory is the lower Colorado River valley as well as the mountains and arroyos of the Mojave Desert in Nevada, California, and Utah. Petroglyphs dating back thousands of years can be found in Red Rock, Valley of Fire, Sloan Canyon, and other locations throughout Southern Nevada.

Beginning in the early 19th century non-native settlers moved into the area, resulting in the displacement of local tribes from both its water-rich lowland winter and tree-rich mountainous summer campgrounds. The annexation of the state of Nevada in 1864, missions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the building of the railroad through the western United States, and the creation of the town of Las Vegas adjacent to the region's most significant water source all led to the relocation of the Southern Paiutes.

Seeing the tribe's dispossession, on December 30, 1911, Helen J. Stewart, owner of the pre-railroad Las Vegas Rancho, deeded 10 acres of spring-fed downtown Las Vegas land to the Paiute peoples, creating the Las Vegas Indian Colony. Until 1983 this was the tribe's only communal land, forming a small "town within a town" in downtown Las Vegas. The tribe ratified their constitution and bylaws on July 22, 1970 and were federally recognized, under the Indian Reorganization Act. In 1983, Congress returned to the tribe 3,800 acres (1,500 ha) of land between the eastern slopes of Mount Charleston in the Spring Mountains and the western flanks of the Sheep Range. This land is known as the Snow Mountain Reservation of the Las Vegas Tribe of Paiute Indians.

Today, the Nuwu continue to traverse and steward the land of the greater Nevada area with other Indigenous communities, such as the Wa She Shu (Washoe), Numu (Northern Paiutes), and the Newe (Western Shoshone). The Las Vegas Tribe of Paiute Indians currently operates a minimart, a cannabis dispensary, two smoke shops, a health and human services program, the Las Vegas Paiute Police Department, and the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort. The tribe hosts the Annual Snow Mountain Pow Wow every Memorial Day weekend. In 2017, the Moapa Band of Paiutes established the first utility-scale solar project to be located on North American tribal lands and is anticipated to evolve as a model for similar future economic and environmental partnerships. Additionally, the Las Vegas Valley is home to many urban Indigenous community members who consistently fight for Indigenous representation and sovereignty.

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An Invitation for ASHE Community Members

As we gather at the lands held in stewardship by the Nuwu, the land currently called Las Vegas, Nevada, we pause to honor the intergenerational knowledge informing how we engage in the study of higher education. The Local and Community Engagement Committee stewarded this syllabus as a starting point to honor many stories and experiences that make Las Vegas a rich and diverse community.

This syllabus is a reminder to the ASHE community to prepare intentions around traveling to Nuwu territory. This syllabus encourages ASHE membership to consider how scholarship is a means to generate meaningful conversations around local and community engagement. This year’s conference theme, “Humanizing Higher Education,” offers an additional lens to consider the following reflective questions:

  • How have higher education structures and systems silenced and/or invited local and community voices?
  • How can humanizing higher education extend our thinking beyond the “human” to be inclusive of land, sky, water, animals, other living entities, and all of creation?
  • How can local and community engagements extend beyond the conference through sustaining practices or policies for those engaging in higher education? 

What is the purpose of the Las Vegas Syllabus?

When creating this syllabus we wanted to support ASHE membership and encourage on-going learning. The purpose of this syllabus is to offer a structured approach to inform learners on place-based sensibilities in higher education research, policy, and practice. We also created these lessons with the intention that faculty can use these lessons in their classrooms before, during, or after the ASHE Annual Meeting.

What is included in the Las Vegas Valley Syllabus?

The syllabus consists of seven parts, two foundational modules and five topic-specific lesson plans.

  • Foundation One module focuses on the theoretical foundations to understanding place-based sensibilities. This model encourages learners to consider epistemological understandings of place and how those understandings intersect with higher education scholarship.
  • Foundation Two modules provide an overview of resources for various communities connected to Southern Nevada and the Las Vegas Valley. This module is useful for accessing information that provides an environmental scan of the various communities of the Las Vegas Valley.
  • Topic 1: Paying for College of Stolen Land lesson discusses the implications of free-tuition programs for Native/Indigenous students in higher education.
  • Topic 2: Context of Education in Las Vegas Valley and the Mountain West provides details on equity and inclusion for educational access, persistence, and completion.
  • Topic 3: Counter-history of the Las Vegas Valley highlights the role of activism and collective action within the region and its implications for higher education.
  • Topic 4: Governance and Finance of Nevada Higher Education discusses the policy implications of Nevada’s higher education system.
  • Topic 5: Cultural Resilience and Survivance centers Indigenous knowledge systems to imagine the possibilities and tensions of decolonizing higher education praxis.

What are some important aspects to consider when using this syllabus?

The lesson plans were created with two main intentions in mind. First, that sources remain accessible to all ASHE members. More than half of the primary sources are open-access material. Centering open-access material allows all ASHE members to continue to access sources without the worry of facing a paywall to engage in learning. Second, we aim to center sources that were specific to Southern Nevada and the Las Vegas Valley. We understand that Nevada is a large state with the northern and southern regions having shared and distinct contexts. Our hope is that learners will bring in their own regional contexts to compare and contrast policy and practice in higher education.


Thank you to members of the ASHE Local & Community Engagement Committee for your contributions to this committee and in particular, the sub-committee who helped in the co-construction of this syllabus.

Members include:

  • Magdalena Martinez (Co-Chair), University of Nevada - Las Vegas
  • Chris A. Nelson (Co-Chair), University of Denver
  • Augustin Tino Diaz, University of Utah
  • Lynda Duran, University of Denver*
  • Stevie R. Lee, University of Denver
  • Jameson Lopez, University of Arizona
  • Federick Ngo, University of Nevada - Las Vegas*
  • Cinthya Salazar, Texas A&M University
  • Lesley Sisaket, University of Denver*
  • Corey Still, American Indian Graduate Center

*Served on syllabus sub-committee