The Pika’aya Tooveep (“Tortoise Land” in the Shivwits dialect) program was initiated as a way to engage and learn from the original caretakers of this area about the land, the species it supports, and our role in safeguarding it. CSU has established a partnership with the Shivwits Band of Paiutes, our local universities, the county’s Habitat Conservation Plan administration, and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to elevate Indigenous conservation perspectives in southwest Utah, offering rigorous internships for local college students. Pika’aya Tooveep aims to provide a holistic understanding of the biological and cultural importance of protecting threatened Mojave desert tortoise habitat. The first project has focused on surveying tortoise habitat on the reservation and recording the oral history of the tortoise’s place in Southern Paiute culture.

We’re currently working with the Shivwits Band on writing and publishing a Pika’aya Tooveep Report and expect this delicate work to extend into 2022. Honoring our relationship with the Shivwits Band means only sharing information approved by the Band Council. Data and stories collected on Indigenous land belong to Indigenous people. Respect for this principle will help nurture future collaborations that protect Pika’aya Tooveep and the people who live here.

We’re also working to highlight the achievements of Shivwits Band intern Bethany Jake. Bethany interviewed her elders, preserving more than 150 pages of stories and eight hours of audio. Future generations will be able to hear the voices of their elders and learn about the connection between the desert tortoise, Indigenous strength, and resilience. At the close of her internship, Bethany will present the Pika’aya Tooveep Oral History Collection to the Shivwits Band Council in a virtual showcase.

We look forward to continued partnership with our tribal, wildlife management and university partners in 2022. Pika’aya Tooveep has modeled how a broad community partnership and internship program can nurture future conservation leaders and strengthen the existing conservation community. We hope that future collaborations will be just as meaningful.