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‘Erased’: New exhibit interprets the meaning of ’kill the Indian, not the man’

California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project, or CHIRP, executive assistant Ember Amador talks about the new gallery exhibit up now in the ‘Uba Seo gallery in Nevada City titled “Erased.“ The gallery shows an in depth look at the history surrounding the Nisenan and other Indigenous tribes.
Photo: Elias Funez

The Nisenan Tribe is slowly becoming more visible, said Nevada City Rancheria spokeswoman Shelly Covert, but generations of repression require historians and activists to not only identify what was lost, but recognize how the theft took place in the first place.

‘Uba Seo, the Nevada City gallery curated by the California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project, opened “Erased,” its third exhibit commemorating the region’s pre-colonial people and culture, on Thursday — the same day a refurbished, historical bridge was unveiled on the other side of Nevada County. The gallery presents dates and documents that characterize institutionalized racism in the form of government sanctioned violence — both physical and systemic.

The Bridgeport Covered Bridge was originally constructed to facilitate travel amid the Gold Rush — a time of “genocide” for the native people — said CHIRP’s executive assistant and community outreach coordinator, Ember Amador.



Shelly Covert said the Nisenan language was thought to be extinct by western academics just a couple of years ago.
Photo: Elias Funez

Nisenan Tribe member Covert was introduced at the ribbon cutting event by a California State Parks official and sang a song in her family’s native language in honor of ‘estom yanim, a sacred mountain in Marysville with ceremonial significance to her people.

The state’s acknowledgment and Covert’s song were symbolic, Amador said, given the tribe’s mission to regain federal recognition. She added that the Nisenan language was thought to be extinct by western academics just a couple of years ago.



Language is not the only aspect of Indigenous culture that has survived colonialists’ intentional designs to erase, Covert said.

Amador said Covert’s captions within the gallery offer an important translation of U.S. policies from the late 1800s and early 1900s, phrased as if they would benefit America’s native people.

People inspect the timeline of the local Nisenan Tribe’s removal from their homeland in Nevada County, on display in the ‘Uba Seo’s new show titled “Erased,“ which is now open.
Photo: Elias Funez

“Indian penal codes, like the ‘Act for the Protection of Indians,’ sound like they would be supportive, but they’re not,” Amador said, adding that the code actually mandated more severe punishments for natives and delegitimized any legal complaints originating from Indigenous persons. “There was actually a campaign to eliminate Native Americans — legislation that put bounties out and offered rewards for scalps of Indians.”

ORIGIN STORY

Amador said California’s origin story, as told by the state’s history books, is predicated on the erasure of its Indigenous people.

“My feel is that our country is predominantly founded on genocide, on slavery, on people claiming to have discovered a place where there was already a very established population of people,” Amador said.

Amador said the story of the Donner Party is gruesome enough as is, but incomplete without the mention of two native boys sent to help them as they struggled across the Sierra.

According to Amador, “Luis” and “Salvador” were young members of a local tribe sent to assist the party before realizing their lives were at risk. After the boys left camp, they were actually hunted down, trapped, killed and then eaten.

Some Native American artifacts are on display in the new ‘Uba Seo show titled “Erased,“ now open off Broad Street in Nevada City.
Photo: Elias Funez

Amador said the two boys were the only ones killed for food. All others were eaten after they had already died.

Amador said their deaths, and the subsequent erasure of their story, is another way the United States justifies historically dehumanizing policies then, and excuses injustice now.

“They shaped the story with the justification of ‘these people are savages,’ ‘these people are monsters,’ ‘they don’t have a god,’” Amador said, adding that powerful language like this eventually assisted the system in stealing native children from their parents and sending them to boarding schools.

Amador said the research process for this particular exhibit — “Erased” — took its toll on the gallery’s curators.

“We’ve had so many meetings with Shelly on how things would be represented and how to share difficult topics,” Amador said. “This was a huge burden on her — having to do all of that.”

The Camp Union Treaty signed near the Yuba River in 1851 granted the Nisenan an area of land that would have encompassed the Rough and Ready and Penn Valley areas. The treaties were never ratified by Congress, though the Nisenan were still removed from their land.
Photo: Elias Funez

Amador said the gallery’s timeline is a work in progress because of the emotional duress caused by both the information that is available, and the pieces of history that are not.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

‘UBA SEO ‘ERASED’

Who: California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project’s ‘Uba Seo gallery

What: Erased

Where: 255 Broad St., Nevada City

When: 1 to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays; 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays, until Dec. 20.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com


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