Urgent: You can help Marin’s Coast Miwoks return home

Huukuiko Inc is a 501(c)3 nonprofit supporting the Coast Miwok Tribal Council of Marin in their attempt to purchase land in Nicasio to use as a new home base in Marin.   The land is 26 acres in Nicasio.  It would truly be coming home – the land they are attempting to purchase is next to the site of their 19th century rancheria, Etcha Tamal.

However there isn’t much time left.  They need commitments by next Sunday, June 18.  If you can help, or if you know someone who might be able to help, please do.  You can learn more at the Huukuiko website coastmiwokofmarin.org/huukuiko.html and in this Point Reyes Light article.

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 MAPOM.org 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.


Big Time Festival at Kule Loklo – July 18

Kule Loklo’s 35th Annual Big Time Festival is next month on July 18, 2015: Make sure to put this on your list for Summer events. Big Time is the main cultural event each year at Kule Loklo in the Point Reyes National Seashore Park. It will feature Pomo Indian dancing, traditional skills demonstrations, and many vendors.

Kule Loklo is a recreated Coast Miwok Indian Village that is maintained entirely by volunteers.  For photographs of Kule Loklo and Pomo dancing there, visit the Kule Loklo History website www.kuleloklo.com/photos.html

Kule Loklo Big Time Festival

Kule Loklo Big Time Festival

Gifts From The Land Of Chief Marin Part Two

Gifts From The Land Of Chief Marin

Part Two

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.





Gifts from the Land of Chief Marin Part One

What if you suddenly found yourself wandering around the lovely hills and valleys of Marin…after everyone else on the planet had disappeared along with all signs of previous civilization?  No cars, no highways, no buildings, no pollution…just the natural world as it existed before modern contact.  With first impression, you might find yourself enchanted by the incredible beauty of this pristine environment.  No doubt, you’d be touched with the abundance of wildlife, the rich array of vegetation and the uncontaminated purity of the air, the waters and the landscape. Towering redwood forests, salmon filled streams and majestic hillsides would grace your view.

But in short order you’d begin to feel that familiar rumbling in the belly and start to focus on food, not to speak of shelter, tools, warmth and the myriad of basic survival needs.  In effect, you’d launch into a re-creation of that vast repertoire of sustaining skills and ecological understanding our Coast Miwok evolved over the past eight thousand years.

Secrets of the Land

 Perhaps you were lucky enough to have read some books on the local flora and fauna or participated in native skills classes that introduced indigenous arts and crafts.  Maybe you had experience backpacking in the wilderness.  In this case you’d be slightly ahead of the game with some awareness of possibilities and challenges.  For the most part you’d be faced with a demanding course of exploration, discovery and opportunity to learn the secrets of the land.

The need to quench your thirst could lead to a creek and the opportunity to taste the pure water as it used to be.  If you were already in tune with traditional wisdom you’d remember to give thanks for the gift.  As you offered this little prayer, perhaps you’d observe salmon struggling upstream to their spawning grounds and think, “Now how could I catch one for my dinner?”  (A wicker dam with only one opening in the center worked for countless centuries.)  “But how to cook it?  And what to do to stay warm?  And, how to find fire to protect myself from grizzly bears and provide light in the darkness of the night?”

At some point you’d need to call, as did our ancients, upon little hummingbird to fly to the sun, steal some of his fire, tuck it under her chin, and return to have Coyote permanently embed that spark within the buckeye tree…where one can still coax out his flaming spirit with the spin of a buckeye drill, a softwood plank and a nest of dried grass.  (She still has that mark upon her chin).

Use of Native Materials

This fantasy journey continues down the path to a sampling of the benefits of local plants and animals, the value of natural materials used to craft implements and the blessing of sacred practices that sustained the ecological balance amongst our First People.  Growing alongside those unpolluted waterways and in nearby tidal marshes rose an abundance of tule rushes with their little tassels tossing in the breeze…as still found along a few undisturbed riparian pathways.  This all-purpose plant was mindfully harvested to construct shelters, weave baskets, fashion sturdy boats, make into duck decoys, serve as diapers, create clothing, and serve up as food.

Arrows were selected from creek side willow branches whose flexible shafts were easily straightened.  Hunting bows were shaped from hazel and bay laurel limbs. Like the highly valued obsidian for tool making, some bow materials, such as dogwood and yew, were traded from far and wide across the land for meticulously crafted strings of clamshell beads – now called “Indian gold.”

Bay laurel, more commonly known by native folks as the “sacred pepperwood tree,” held spiritual significance.  Branches were, and still are, used as a healing smudge to cleanse participants before entering into the Roundhouse for ceremonies and rituals at the Miwok Village, called Kule Loklo (“Bear Valley” in Miwok), in the Point Reyes National Seashore.  The peppery tasting nut from the tree can be roasted and eaten or made into bread.  Try collecting a bunch in the fall, peeling away the soft outer flesh and roasting them in the oven for five to ten minutes.  Tasty treat.

Pepperwood branches were burned all day with doors closed in the Roundhouse to create a huge smoke-filled chamber.  Bugs in the earthen roof beat a hasty retreat.  Acorn storage granaries were lined with pepperwood leaves to deter insects.  And of course, today we think of the bay leaf as an essential ingredient in our spaghetti and stew.

How Much More Is There to Learn?

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.

(Look for the second half of this essay in the days to come)

See the whole article with illustrations at http://www.wildcarebayarea.org/site/PageServer?pagename=eNews_June2012_landingpage and scroll down to John’s article.


Olompali Heritage Day is May 20

Olompali Heritage Day will be celebrated on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at Olompali State Park, the site of the only land ever officially granted to a Native resident of northern Alta California.

The land grant was made in 1843 by Mexican Governor Manuel Micheltorena to Camilo Ynitia, headman of the Coast Miwok Indian village at the location.  Three years later, it was the site of the Battle of Olompali, the first battle of the Bear Flag Revolt. In 1852, two years after California came under American rule, Ynitia sold most of the land to pay his taxes.  The purchaser was Marin County tax assessor James Black, who gave the land to his daughter

Camilo Ynitia had built an adobe home on the property and in 1915, James Black’s descendants built a huge mansion around the adobe, fortunately preserving it.  Today the mansion is gone and you can see the remains of Camilo Ynitia’s original adobe home.

Olompali Heritage Day includes Pomo Indian dancing, historical talks, including remembrances of the site by members of the Chosen Family Commune, plant walks, and demonstrations including basketry, flintknapping, adobe brick making and blacksmithing. Admission is $8.  The park is located on Highway 101 in Marin County just north of Novato.  You can get maps and directions at this California State Parks and Recreation page.  The Novato Advance has a schedule of events and the Sonoma Valley Sun has a history of Olompali.

MAPOM will have a table at the event.  Please stop by and say hi.