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 ( 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 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 and scroll down to John’s article.





How I Became a Kule Loklo Volunteer

At a time when life was a treadmill, some Sundays I’d head for one or another wilderness not far from the City.  Hike a little, enjoy the landscapes, let Earth’s slow rhythms and peace fill me.  Gradually Kule Loklo became my destination.

There’s a cluster of trees between the former Roundhouse and the Native Plant Garden where spreading roots and soft earth are perfect for sitting and gazing out over the landscape.  The Roundhouse, kotcas, granaries, Dance Circle, Sweat Lodge, and wooded hills of Marin filled my view.  It became my spot.  I’d sit comfortably reading, writing, correcting papers, and thinking while tension and worry melted.  All the best of a past week replayed in my mind.

One afternoon Rod Torres, a Park Ranger, walked by as he checked Kule Loklo.  He always stopped to chat briefly.  One day he said, “I see you here frequently.  Did you know you could volunteer here at Kule Loklo?”

I stared at him in wide-eyed surprise.  “No, I thought someone would have to be part of the Park Service, or Native American, or be involved in history or ecology to help here.”

He said, “People come one Saturday a month to repair or rebuild structures, take care of the Native Plant Garden, and do general maintenance.

He told me where to sign up, said good-bye, and went about his rounds.

Going over this marvelous news in my mind, it took all of two minutes to make a choice.  One Saturday a month–I can do that.  Repair and rebuild structures–I can learn how to do that.  Weed the garden–can do.

So I gathered my things, ambled down the path to the parking lot, stowed my belongings, then went to the Park Office to sign up as a Kule Loklo Volunteer.

That was about ten years ago.

Permanently in my memory is the morning I arrived at Kule Loklo quite early.  No one else was there.

I parked, got out of the car, and halted near the wooden fence between the dirt road and the Dance Circle.  Turning my ears up to full volume I heard various birds, the wind gently rustling leaves and branches, instinct buzzing—all quite muted.

As I was about to walk around the fence to walk to the middle of Kule Loklo, I froze and a slow smile grew.  What I heard sounded like children playing–a very familiar sound to an Elementary Teacher.  I waited a while, but no children came into view even after I’d reached the center of Kule Loklo.

I finally concluded it was the squeak and squeal of tree limbs bending and pushing past each other as the wind grew stronger.

Yet…it felt more as if I’d somehow stepped into the past when Native People were arriving in the area for their seasonal stay.  Children were running around looking for favorite places and things, while the adults were still a little way off hauling their belongings.

2012 Kule Loklo Big Time

Kule Loklo’s annual Big Time festival will be celebrated on Saturday, July 21.  This is the 32nd year that this popular Bay Area event has been held.  It features dancing by two California Indian dance groups, the Intertribal Pomo group and Dry Creek Pomo dancers, and there will be vendors skills demonstrations.  The event is free and is suitable for the whole family.  It does however require a .4 mile walk from the parking area to Kule Loklo.

Kule Loklo Big Time - Pomo dancer July 2011

Kule Loklo Big Time - Pomo dancer July 2011

Kule Loklo is a replica Coast Miwok Indian village in Point Reyes National Seashore.  Originally constructed in the 1970s, it includes redwood bark village structures and two semi-subterranean structures, a sweat house and a roundhouse.  The roundhouse is used by Native people for traditional ceremonial purposes, so entrance is restricted, but you are allowed to look inside this unique building and get a sense of what life was like in this area before Europeans changed it forever.

You can learn more about Kule Loklo at the website of the Kule Loklo volunteers,, and you can learn more about the Big Time and get directions on the National Park website