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Photo: Charlie Johnston
Just months after his appointment by Governor Brian Sandoval to the Nevada Commission on Tourism, Pyramid Lake Tribal Chairman Wayne Burke passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, October 28, 2012. Burke was the first Native American appointed to the 11-member commission since its creation in 1983.
The 38-year-old Burke was elected to the Pyramid Lake Tribal Council in 2010 and as Tribal Chairman the following year. A champion for the wellbeing and longevity of the lake that has supported his people for generations, Burke leveraged his role in the tribe to push for the restoration and recovery of Pyramid Lake, including acquiring additional water rights and taking part in historic talks with the Truckee Carson Irrigation District. “Chairman Burke was a vocal advocate for Pyramid Lake and tribal issues,” says Sandoval in an October 2012 story in the Reno Gazette-Journal. “I admired his leadership.”
Burke’s extensive list of accomplishments during his short time as Tribal Chairman includes an award-winning economic development plan for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and pushing initiatives to promote the lake as a tourist destination.
In addition to his tireless efforts to protect and promote the lake, Burke was an accomplished artist and advocate for Native American issues across the country and provided national testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The former Marine was also a spokesman for veterans and played a central role in organizing a national Native American Veterans Summit. In November, he was named American Indian Community Leader of the Year by the Nevada Indian Commission.
“Burke served the tribe with honor and distinction and was instrumental in moving forward a long list of accomplishments that have benefited all of us,” says Tribal Vice Chairman Mervin Wright Jr. “We will continue to move his and the tribe’s agenda forward.”
Burke is survived by his wife, Leticia, and three children, Alec, Cristian, and Soleil. A memorial service was held on November 6, 2012 at the Nixon Gym, and a trust account was established at the Fernley branch of Bank of America under the name “Wayne Burke” to help support his family. Donations to the account can be made at any Bank of America location.