Precious Cargo: Childbirth and Cradle Baskets in California Indian Culture

Now through June 1, 2014

Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa describes Precious Cargo exhibit of  Natvie cradles this way, “California Indian people have relied on cradle baskets for centuries to protect their children and also to play a role in shaping a child’s character and directing his or her future.  The basket becomes a vehicle for the community’s most serious views concerning health and one’s relationship with the world.  This exhibition is on loan from the Museum of the American Indian in Novato.”

College of Marin Community Education is offering a course on California Indian Baskets.  Instructors are Ralph Shanks, author of two books on California baskets, Lisa Woo Shanks, co-author and Robert Brewer.  After an introduction students will be divided into groups for direct experiences from baskets from several California native groups.  A Pomo cradle similar to one illustrated by Sonoma County Museum will be among the baskets to be seen in person, not on static display.

Search College of Marin courses for:  CULT 9654A – California Indian BasketsCE01/25/14-01/25/14S10:00-12:00KTDSMN 106CLAS

Register soon for a rare, direct experience with rarely-seen California Indian baskets






MAPOM will be at the Marin Show – Art of the Americas

This year, MAPOM will once again be at the Marin Show – Art of the Americas in San Rafael. It is the largest show of early California Indian art in the nation and includes antique California Indian baskets, pottery, bead work, rugs and many other items for sale.

Contemporary Native American art will be featured in a separate part of the show, just across the foot bridge from the Marin Center, at the Embassy Suites Hotel.

The MAPOM table at the Marin Show will have a large selection of excellent California Indian books and information on the classes we offer. MAPOM board members will be at the table throughout the show.  We’d love to meet you.  Please stop by our table.

Admission is $15 per person.  This admits you into both the antique and contemporary shows.  You can learn more about the 30th annual Marin Show at

The Marin Show – Art of the Americans will be held at the Marin Center, 10 Avenue of the Americas on February 22- 23, 2014 from 10 to 6 on the 22nd and 11 to 5 on the 23rd..

Reflections On Betty Goerke’s New Book “Discovering Native People At Point Reyes”

As a school teacher I introduced the subject of Native American studies each year with the following guided visualization:

          It’s Friday night.  You’re excited about the weekend as you sit with your family for dinner about to begin your favorite meal – maybe spaghetti and meatballs with ice cream for dessert.  Suddenly there’s a heavy knock.  You jump up, run over and open the door.  In your face stands a gang of threatening space aliens wielding powerful weapons.  The leader blurts out “get out of our way” as the whole hoard forces its way into your home.  They scream, “Leave now or we’ll wipe you out with our laser guns!”  Of course you and your family protest, “But this is our home and our land and you can’t have it!”  What do you do?

The answers to this question varied from year to year but generally student responses involved some sort of angry and aggressive resistance.  However, when the power of the dominant attackers becomes evident and the family is either wiped out, dies from alien diseases or runs for dear life, the shocking reality grabs hold.  Seeing themselves as an intimate part of this teaching story allowed the kids to embody the experience of our indigenous people when the overwhelming force of the European invasion descended upon them and their traditional cultures.

Noted anthropologist and retired College of Marin professor, Betty Goerke, doesn’t dwell on this sordid affair in her latest book about our native Miwok who successfully sustained themselves and their environment for thousands of years.  But she doesn’t mince words in describing the devastating impact of the modern world upon their lives.  She writes, “Newly arrived immigrants to California, both U.S. citizens and those from other countries, were hungry for land, livestock, and gold.  They found the native population an impediment to their ambitions, which meant that being an Indian in many parts of California was dangerous.  There were few protections.”

She continues, “John McDougal, an early American governor of California, believed that a “war of extinction” directed against the native population was “inevitable.”  Kidnappings continued, Indian children and women were bought and sold, and bounties were issued for Indians accused of supposed crimes.”

Millions of Indian people across the North and South American continents were killed whether from diseases to which they had no immunity, land wars or outright massacre.  Fortunately such was not the final word in West Marin.  As the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, our local tribal organization, attest: “We are still here.”  And despite the ravages of the past, native communities, both locally and across the land, continue to cherish their cultural heritage.

How do we come to terms with the genocide upon which our country was founded?  For the most part, we don’t.  Genocide is a term reserved for what other conquerors do to those peoples they seek to dominate and/or eliminate.  Even today, I’d find myself in troubled water within many school districts across the land if I presented an opening narrative like the one above.  Or in deeper water by suggesting that the establishment of the “home of the free and land of the brave” was dependent on the eradication of its original people and the theft of their land.  But then, hasn’t this same pattern dominated the conflict-ridden history of the civilized world, at least since the development of agriculture and sedentary living?

But back to Betty’s book.  The first section flows as a well researched and highly readable narrative of the history of our local Miwok people from Francis Drake’s first contact, through the depredations of the mission period and right up to the contemporary moment.  Archival photos offer a window into that past and present.  Like the miraculous rebirth of our Bishop Pine trees after their holocaust of the Mount Vision fire, the text encourages the awareness that our first people have survived the onslaught of the modern world and their descendents remain alive and well today.  She writes, “The Coast Miwok people are now recognized by the U.S. government as a sovereign nation – an achievement that would have seemed unlikely for much of the last two hundred years.”

Betty goes on to describe a recent and momentous occasion in which some sense of reconciliation may have been achieved.  “In December 2007, both the Catholic Church and the Coast Miwok commemorated the 192nd anniversary of the founding of Mission San Rafael at a mass at Saint Raphael Church on the site of the original mission….In a moving, and unprecedented tribute, retired Bishop Francis Quinn apologized to the Coast Miwok people for past injustices.”  Tribal Chief Greg Sarris, who spoke from the same pulpit, received and accepted the Bishop’s sincere regrets.

In the second section of her book Betty Goerke, an avid hiker, describes a number of “destinations” in the Point Reyes area and how they reflect traditional Miwok lifeways.  These special places include some of the premier hiking trails in the Point Reyes National Seashore.  In company with the narrative, these sites offer an understanding of the sacred relationship between this beautiful natural environment and the people who nurtured it for thousands of years.  The lovely photographs that accompany the text serve as a testimony to the wisdom inherent in our society’s choice to protect and enshrine this stunning landscape as a national treasure.

Available For Purchase At: MAPOM,com

Discovering Native People at Point Reyes

Betty Goerke’s new book Discovering Native People at Point Reyes is now available from MAPOM for $13.00.

This engaging story of the Coast Miwok people has a twofold purpose: to explain the natural history, cultural lifeways, and history of native life at Point Reyes and Tomales Bay from the time of Francis Drake’s arrival to the acknowledgment of the tribe by the US Government in 2000; and to suggest nine specific walks in the area which have been meaningful destinations for tribal people for thousands of years.  It includes information and photographs never before published, and is illustrated with over 75 photographs, most of them in color.

Betty is a MAPOM co-founder and board member, a trustee of the Museum of the American Indian, and has taught anthropology and archeology at College of Marin for over 35 years.

You can order this and other publications on MAPOM’s publications page

Big Time Festival at Kule Loklo tomorrow

Tomorrow, July 21, is the 32nd annual Big Time Festival at Point Reyes National Seashore, from 10am to 4pm.  We will have Northern California Indian dancing, vendors, and skills demonstrators.

Admittance is free, but you should bring a lunch. You can buy a sandwich in the nearby communities of Inverness Park, Olema, and Point Reyes Station.

You can learn more about Kule Loklo at the website of the Kule Loklo volunteers,, where you will also find photographs of dancing from some previous years and of the rebuilding of the semi-subterranean ceremonial roundhouse.

Directions to Kule Loklo are available on the National Park website  There is a walk of about .4 mile on a dirt trail from the Seashore headquarters to Kule Loklo.

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.

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 ( 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.

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

See the whole article with illustrations at 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.

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