Earlier this year, Ben Rupert and his son built a traditional structure at the Incline Village Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau that was vandalized not once, but twice. After four months of preparation, the structure — known as a galis dungal — has been resurrected.
“I knew it was something we needed to rebuild,” said Ben Rupert of Carson City, who has built several other shelters in the greater Tahoe area. “We want to reintroduce the culture of the Washoe.”
The new galis dungal, which resembles a tepee’s shape, remains outside the Visitors Bureau but is in a different location, one Rupert said is even better than before. There’s also a new exhibit inside the Visitors Bureau, which includes bows, arrows, baskets and other forms of traditional art, which Rupert assembled with the help of students from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The bureau also installed security cameras to help protect the shelter, according to the center’s Operations and Finance Director Greg Long. Who or why the structure was maliciously attacked before remains unknown.
As a result, Rupert told the Tribune in February he was hesitant to build a new structure, but later got the approval to build in a different location.
“The people in that area came forward and said they really wanted it,” Rupert said. “After a while I said ‘I’m not going to let one person or a small group of people hold me back.’”
Galis dungal means “winter shelter” and is a traditional dwelling of the Washoe, the indigenous people of Lake Tahoe and its surrounding land. Its walls are made from cedar bark and involve a wood-curing process that takes several months. The structure is usually built around a frame of pine or willow poles, which is then secured with rocks around the diameter.
Long said it’s important the visitor’s center showcase the origins of Lake Tahoe, which the galis dungal and exhibit represent.
“It allows some of our history of our region as opposed to only the current happenings,” he said.
Long also said the Bureau is developing a two mile forest loop that will start and end at the galis dungal. The trail will be completed in about a month.
Rupert, a descendant of the Washoe and Northern Paiute, is the great-grandson of a Washoe shaman. It wasn’t until his son wanted to learn other arts he learned to create things like bows, arrows and the galis dungal.
“It was really my son who had the drive to learn these traditional arts,” Rupert said. “There were enough master artists in the area to teach me so I could then go teach my son.”
Since then, Rupert said he’s been able to develop his own building style and methods for gathering the materials. Once the wood was prepared, it took a team of eight volunteers to build the structure over the course of a few hours.
The wood came from a fallen tree in Sugar Pine Point State Park in Tahoma, which was able to cure for about a year before being salvaged. Some of it was also recycled from another structure Rupert had built at Fremont Elementary School in Carson City.
Rupert is committed to promoting the Great Basin Tribes with his wife and son, and hopes to continue sharing the significance Tahoe has to native peoples through the traditional arts.