Tracing Forgotten Footsteps

On Saturday, July 18th we’ll have an opportunity to trace the sometimes forgotten path of our Native people here in Point Reyes.  From 9:30 to 12:30 in the Red Barn near Park Headquarters a dynamic quartet of speakers will regale us with reflections and personal tales in a presentation entitled: “Native American History Past, Present and Future.”  Malcolm Margolin is the renowned founder of Heyday Press, which has been publishing books for many decades on both the environment and Native culture.  Lindsie Bear serves as the editor of News From Native California, the heart full Heyday magazine that reflects both the past and present of Indian consciousness.

Vincent Medina is an Ohlone Indian, who also writes for the magazine.  He’s been particularly active in reviving the Ohlone language and associated culture.  And, our own Joanne Campbell is a cherished Miwok elder who sits on the tribal council.  Joanne received a standing ovation at the end of her talk during the recent Geography of Hope Conference.  To register for the lectures call the College of Marin at 415-485-9305 or pay the $49 tuition fee at the door.  Check out for more information.

This presentation is actually an official class in the California Indian Studies Program, which is a partnership with The Miwok Archeological Preserve of Marin (MAPOM), the College of Marin (COM) and the Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS).  The driving vision seeks to keep timeless indigenous practices alive. Classes are offered throughout the year with many conducted here at Kule Loklo.  A sample include: flintknapping, basket making, acorn processing, fire making, as well as field trips to petroglyph sites, basket museums and tracking trails.  Many of the teachers are California Indians, as well as instructors who are leading authorities on Native culture.  The cosmology and worldview which successfully sustained our original inhabitants for so many millennia is woven into these presentations.

After the morning lectures participants are invited to follow the trail to Kule Loklo for the Point Reyes National Seashore’s 35th annual Kule Loklo Big Time Festival.  Highlights include: traditional California Indian dancers, crafts demonstrations, basket making, book sales, jewelry, artifacts and more.  In the course of one day, we’re offered a golden opportunity to follow human footsteps through the 10,000 year history of our land.  Perhaps valuable lessons are embedded in that journey that could serve to address the growing ecological crisis on which Pope Francis has now focused the world’s attention.

Tracking Miwok History

          Not so long ago the prevailing wisdom held that the Miwok Indians were extinct.  In protest the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria loudly proclaim “We are still here.” Marin County was named after the Miwok hero who resisted the onslaught of the European invasion.  Anthropologist, Betty Goerke, has written a compelling biography called “Chief Marin: Leader, Rebel, and Legend” that moves from the ageless time of Native culture to the recent march of the European invaders.

Most of what’s arbitrarily presented as “our county’s history” emphasizes the past few hundred years and pays all but lip service to the thousands of years Native people successfully sustained themselves here in Marin – without, I might add, destroying the environment.  The footprint left by a few thousand hunting and gathering people living harmoniously with the natural world contrasts with the hundreds of thousands of modern inhabitants all struggling to live high on the hog.  Maybe the hard wiring of Homo dominativus (dominating humans) propels us to behave exactly as we do – and thus no real blame.  However, as the MAPOM/COM/PRNS Indian lectures and classes reflect, an alternative quality of human consciousness is also a part of our biological and cultural heritage.

In order to learn from the lessons of the past we could look to the long history of indigenous culture.  We might discover kernels of Native wisdom that could shine light on how to resolve the present climate crisis.  An ethos emphasizing the need to keep the population within the carrying capacity of the environment could point the way. A cosmology grounded in a respectful and sacred relationship with the natural world might suggest some new/old directions for us to follow.

Coast Miwok/Kashia Pomo and national treasure, Julia Parker, has been teaching basket weaving in the Indian Studies Program for decades.  She lives that ageless worldview and incorporates its precepts in her classes.  In the book about her life as a basket weaver entitled “Scrape The Willow Until It Sings,” Julia shares these precious words: “So when we gather, we are always told to give offering – no matter what we have.  This is paying back to Earth with the respect of a thank you.  So you follow those rules.  You don’t take more than you need.  And do song, prayer and offering.”  She’ll be back to teach at Kule Loklo on September 19-20.

And just recently, Pope Francis has shocked the established powers with his stunning encyclical proclaiming the necessity to rethink how we care for “Mother Earth.”  Much of his languaging has the ring of the Earth-centered spiritual practices that guided humanity for those countless millennia.  “Praise Be To You” Pope Francis!  The tracks of many forgotten footsteps call out for rediscovery.  It’s all about time.


2 thoughts on “Tracing Forgotten Footsteps

  1. Dear John Littleton,

    I hope this finds you well. My name is Gina Cloud and I am a poet, playwright, and retired educator living in southwestern Sonoma County. In the past year I wrote and produced a play about the history/founding of the tiny town of Bloomfield where I live.
    It was well received and many people in surrounding areas urged me to do another one, possibly about Tomales. As I began to investigate the founding of Tomales, it became clear to me that the bigger story- the one that resonates for me, and that I consider to be of profound importance is the story of the Miwok people, with a special emphasis on the Coastal Miwok of this area. Of course all other California tribes, as well as those from other parts of the US are also as important, but for the sake of this play, I am concentrating on the area where I live. It’s such a complex story and I am grounding it in the present with many journeys into the past.

    Of course, in the last several months I have dived into studying the history of the Miwok and Pomo peoples, (since there is such an intermingling nowadays). Some of the books I’ve read are Chief Marin- Goerke, Tending the Wild – Anderson,
    The Way We Lived -Margolin, The Ohlone Way- Margolin, A World Transformed- Paddison, Scrape the Willow Until It Sings- Valoma, Mabel McKay- G. Sarris, It Will Live Forever- Ortiz, to name a few. I’ve also visited many known sites and museums and have begun work on the play.
    I am contacting you because I recognize the importance of receiving input from Miwok and Pomo people
    I have been to the office of the FIGR and have been in touch with a few individuals via email, but I want to involve myself more directly if possible. So my question to you is, what are ways to make connections now? I intend to participate in the next Big Time events at Kule Loklo, but I very much hope to establish a relationship with someone I can go to with questions and concerns that come up as I write.

    My interest in Native American issues is not new. It has been in my heart my entire life.
    My father was an undeclared Indian (1/2) but my mother considered being Indian a stigma, so he never admitted it until just before he died, when I was 10. I cannot track the history, but I assume my grandmother was adopted into a white family in Kansas, since my father told me I was 1/4 Indian.
    Regardless, I have a conviction that the story and wisdom of America’s native peoples is of great importance in these times. I believe that there is a place, a big place, for native insight in helping to save us from ourselves. My small part is to help create an opening in an audience that might otherwise not be receptive. I see myself and this project as a small but important cog in something much bigger. Certainly the story belongs to all of us.

    Obviously there is so much more to say, but hopefully you can see that I am committed to this project. If you know of people within the community of those active in Miwok or Pomo affairs, who might be receptive to dialog with me, I would be so very grateful for your help.

    Thank you very much,
    Gina Cloud

  2. Oppun Towis Gina,
    (Miwok for: “Hello, are you doing good?)
    Thanks for connecting. Sorry it’s taken this elder awhile to get back – we move at a slower pace. I’d be happy to talk with you or meet in person here in Point Reyes with as much as I can offer. I’ve been involved with Native practices and culture for many decades and offer presentations of California and Miwok cultural practices – last Saturday with Betty Goerke (Chief Marin) at the College of Marin. I would suggest you very best bet would be to connect with Sky Road Webb (904-254-4770) who is a Tomales Miwok and very active in promoting cultural awareness. Do get in touch if you’d like to get together.
    (415-663-9091 or
    Walli Towis, John

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