The Life of a Northern Paiute
This is the compelling yet disturbing story of Corbett Mack (1892–1974), an opiate addict who was a member of the Nuumuu (Numa), or Northern Paiute. The Northern Paiute are best known as the people who produced Wovoka, the Ghost Dance prophet whose revitalistic teachings swept the Indian world in the 1890s. Mack is from the generation following the collapse of the Ghost Dance religion, a generation of Nomogweta or “half-breeds” (also called “stolen children”)—Paiute of mixed ancestry who were raised in an increasingly bicultural world and who fell into virtual peonage to white (often Italian) potato farmers.
Around the turn of the century, the use of opium became widespread among the Paiute, adopted from equally victimized Chinese laborers with whom they worked closely in the fields. The story of Corbett Mack is an uncompromising account of a harsh and sometimes traumatic life that was typical of an entire generation of Paiute. It was a life born out of the turmoil and humiliation of an Indian boarding school, troubled by opiate addiction, bound to constant labor in the fields, yet nonetheless made meaningful through the perseverance of Paiute cultural traditions.
Michael Hittman is chairman of the Anthropology and Sociology Department and a professor at Long Island University, Brooklyn. He is the author of Wovoka and the Ghost Dance: A Sourcebook and A Numa History: The Yerington Paiute Tribe.