Gifts From The Land Of Chief Marin
Spiritual Connections to the Land
In keeping with the native ethos of reverence for the bounty of the natural world, the hunting of wild animals was conducted with prayer and thankfulness and the use of all parts of the creature. Venison provided a basic source of protein. Deer antlers were employed as tools to work obsidian into arrowheads and as knife hafts with sharp stone blades. Brain-tanned hides were softened and worked into clothing, ceremonial regalia, door closures, working mats, bundle wrappings and hunting decoys. Bones were used for tools, musical instruments, gambling dice and probably arrow points. Even the hooves served as rattles.
Sinew from the deer’s back provided strong, sticky cords for affixing arrowheads, attaching feathers, strengthening bows and coiling bow strings. Like the laces in our boots, strips of animal rawhide served a multitude of binding needs. The taking of all prey proceeded with respect and the practical awareness that community members would never over-exploit the animal population…lest there be none for tomorrow and tomorrow.
A hunter-gatherer sacred (and also pragmatic) maxim guided cultural behavior: “One never exceeds the carrying capacity of the local environment in its least productive year.” Does this timeless wisdom have relevance for today?
And then there’s the ubiquitous acorn, not to speak of the wide variety of edible seeds and nuts. Often lauded as one of the most nutritious sources of protein available, acorns from each of the numerous species of oak here in Miwok territory, provided a staple crop. A California Indian matriarch once explained that tan oaks produced the “Cadillac of acorns.” And, in some communities valley oak and black oak nuts were highly favored. I’ve read that the flour, which results from processing acorns of any species, can be purchased on-line and at Korean grocery stores in San Francisco, where it’s still regarded as a prime source of nutrition.
Native Plants as Tools
California Indian baskets enjoy an international reputation as some of the finest in the world. Artfully crafted from a range of plant materials, including willow, sedge, hazelnut and tule, design patterns were highlighted using native dyes and, sometimes, feathers and decorative shells. Renowned basket weaver, Julia Parker (Coast Miwok/Pomo/Mono Lake Paiute), speaks to the heart of this ageless practice, “Take from the Earth and give back to the Earth and don’t forget to say please and thank you.” To paraphrase one of her biographers, Julia knows that by teaching students to weave baskets she not only offers a sacred art, but also connects them in a magical way to their history and environment.
As an avid hiker these past forty years or so here in the land named after Chief Marin, I’ve often pictured myself as a native, especially when off on the more remote trails that have suffered less from the impact of the modern world. As the Navaho like to say: “Beauty beside me, beauty behind me, beauty above me and beauty before me.” How much more do we have to learn about the land in which we live? As in the imaginative adventure that opened the essay, I’d encourage readers to delve more deeply into the lore of local plants, animals, geologic formations and ethnographic history in this well-preserved ecological gem we call home. Good for your body, mind and spirit.
Want To Learn More?
In July, the Miwok Archeological Preserve of Marin (MAPOM.org) in partnership with the College of Marin Adult Education Department will begin offering a year-long series of classes entitled “The California Indian Studies Certificate Program.” (Call 415-485-9305 for information and go to www.marin.edu/communityeducation/CAIndianStudiesCertProgram.html for registration.) Completion of five of the nine listed classes leads to an award of the Certificate, but participants can enroll in any one or more of the workshops. These, mostly weekend offerings, include flint knapping, basket weaving, fire making and ethnographic understandings. The series kicks off at the annual Kule Loklo Big Time Celebration on Saturday morning, July 21st in the Red Barn at the Point Reyes National Seashore. Check out the program for a more in-depth appreciation of our First Peoples and their relationship to the land.
See the whole article with illustrations at http://www.wildcarebayarea.org/site/PageServer?pagename=eNews_June2012_landingpage and scroll down to John’s article.