When the words “California history” are uttered, many immediately conjure images of Spanish missions, hardy miners or bold pioneers linking wagon trains as they trundle over the Sierra Nevada crest.
Such images evoke the European settlement of the state, but the history of the human habitation of California extends significantly further into the past, when a complex and diverse civilization, comprised by dozens of Native American tribes, occupied the many distinct geographical areas of the Golden State.
In the Yuba watershed, the Nisenan people settled the area thousands of years ago.
Hunter and gatherers, the tribe relied heavily on the acorn as a staple of their diet, supplementing it with protein supplied by the salmon that navigated the unbridled free-flowing Yuba, along with deer and other native creatures, said Robert Bettinger, a professor of Anthropology at University of California, Davis.
Many people are more familiar with the term Maidu in reference to local indigenous people, but the it refers to a complicated network of tribes that inhabited the central Sierra Nevada, west of the crest, between the American and Feather rivers.
However, within this broad swathe of land, while many of the tribes spoke a language derived from the same linguistic system, there existed a diversity of dialect and cultural elements, Bettinger said.
Nisenan occupied the American, Bear and Yuba river watersheds and also lived in the Central Valley.
The Yamonee Maidu or Mountain Maidu lived in proximity to the North and Middle forks of the Feather River. The Konkow resided in a valley between Cherokee and Pulga, Calif. and the Mechudpa settled the area around Chico, Calif.
While these diverse tribes had pronounced differences, the similarities allowed them to trade and develop similar cultural elements, Bettinger said.
Much of the day-to-day existence of the people who occupied California before the encroachment of European settlers remains clouded, due to the ensuing eradication of the civilizations that had once flourished in the region.
A discussion with Eileen Moon, a member of the Tsi Akim Maidu Tribal Council, reveals that the wounds of the genocide are still present with the descendants of the Maidu people.
The Tsi Akim Maidu are sponsoring a four-day event called Indigenous Peoples Days, which celebrates the unique cultural heritage of Nevada County’s true native sons and daughters.
“This event is for the entire community,” Moon said. “It is a way of healing for everybody. We couldn’t have the event if it wasn’t for the community.”
Moon repeatedly emphasized the event as a means of healing throughout an interview with The Union.
Indigenous Peoples Day events begin at 5 p.m. Friday, with a Round Dance on Union Street in Nevada City.
At 7:30 p.m., John Trudell, an author, poet, actor and musician and well-known activist for Native American issues, will play a show at the Grass Valley Veterans Auditorium.
The event is a fundraiser for the Tsi Akim Maidu.
On Saturday, some of the more traditional ceremonies of the Maidu people will commence, with a sunrise ceremony at Sycamore Ranch Park in Yuba County.
“For Maidu, the ceremony begins when the (sunlight) hits the ground, just before 7 a.m.,” said Donna Uran, a volunteer for the event, who said the ceremony is led by a spiritual elder.
“The ceremony reminds us of who we are and displays gratitude to the creator for all
the things we are given,” Uran said.
After the ceremony, the hunters leave and take spears into the river with the intention of capturing a male salmon.
Once this is accomplished, designated runners transport the slain fish back to the awaiting tribe, when the Calling Back the Salmon Ceremony is initiated.
The male salmon is fed to the elders of the tribe and a general celebration commences.
On Sunday, a ceremony that recognizes members of the tribe’s ancestors, their accomplishments and how present members are attempting to honor those accomplishments with their activities will take place.
The general public is encouraged to attend the ceremonies, with donations encouraged.
The event is drug and alcohol free and pets are not allowed.
For more information, call the Tsi Akim Maidu Tribal Council at (530) 274-7497.