Matthew Renda

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January 2, 2013
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Nisenan tribe loses respected elder

Everett “Weary” Smith, a prominent elder in the local Nisenan tribe, died Tuesday at the age of 85. Smith was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, along with being a very respected member of the local Native American community, said Shelly Covert, secretary to the Nevada City Rancheria Tribal Council.

“Our elders are our culture bearers, our history bearers,” Covert said. “Weary had respect from people and he was held in high regard. Becoming an elder isn’t just a matter of age — you actually have to contribute to the community.”

The Nisenan, which are the indigenous native people to western Nevada County, did not have a written language, which makes the tradition of oral storytelling paramount to members of the tribe.

“I had been working with Weary to keep our history alive,” said Covert, adding that she would record Weary as he shared his boyhood recollections of western Nevada County, including the stage and toll roads along the Yuba River.

“Weary also provided the South Yuba State Park Association firsthand childhood memories of the old Bridgeport Gas Station that has now been fully restored,” Covert said.

“He talked to the (South Yuba River Citizens League) members about the historic salmon runs and educated locals about true Nisenan culture. It was always amazing to me the clarity (with) which Weary could recall the past.”

Not only was Weary instrumental in preserving the version of western Nevada County that he experienced in the 1930s, but he recalled the stories that he was told by his elders when he was a boy.

The scope of his memories and narrations reached back into the centuries, Covert said.

“The stories were sometimes hard to hear, but the preservation of culture is of the upmost importance to the Nisenan today and those stories must be protected,” Covert said.

Weary and his daughters have on loan (for purposes of display) Nisenan family artifacts which can be seen at the Firehouse No. 1 in Nevada City.

Weary is survived by three children — Abby, Becky and Roger, Covert said.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or call (530) 477-4239.

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The Union Updated Jan 11, 2013 01:07PM Published Jan 8, 2013 07:40AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.