Less than a month after being the first Native American member appointed to the Nevada Commission on Tourism, Wayne Burke, the tribal chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, walked on October 28.
At only 38, his sudden death is still under investigation, though foul play is not suspected according to a tribal press release.
Burke, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, approved an award-winning economic development plan for the tribe after becoming tribal chairman in 2010. According to the Reno-Gazette Journal, the next year the Nevada chapter of the American Planning Association gave it the Outstanding Plan Award. In 2012, the plan won the Donald D. Hunter National Excellence in Economic Development Planning and an honorable mention from the Economic Development Division of the American Planning Association.
“He believed we had to support our kids as much as we could,” Randy Melendez, principal at Pyramid Lake Junior/Senior High School, told the Reno-Gazette Journal. “He would try to find funding for them for higher education, how to get more scholarships and how to get them to go off the reservation and attain their college degrees.”
The Reno-Gazette Journal reported that during the school’s 2011 graduation, Burke said: “You always hear that cliché about these are our future leaders. Well, these are.”
Tribal Vice Chairman Mervin Wright Jr. will take over the chairmanship until the end of the year. Elections for a new chairman will be held after the first of the year.
“Chairman 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,” Wright said in the release. “We will continue to move his and the tribe’s agenda forward. On behalf of the tribe and the tribal council, I want to assure you that while we grieve the passing of Chairman Burke, the tribe will continue to function effectively and despite this terrible loss, we will push on and continue to implement all of the important initiatives we work for day after day.”
Memorial services are pending.