A grand gesture: Nevada City School of the Arts donates office space to Nisenan | TheUnion.com

A grand gesture: Nevada City School of the Arts donates office space to Nisenan

Tribal council secretary of Nevada City Rancheria and executive director of CHIRP, Shelly Covert, visits some of her tribe's land in a file photo from 2017.
File Photo

Nevada City School of the Arts director Holly Pettitt said that as long as she’s known her school is on historically-relevant land that once belonged to the Nisenan tribe, she has felt it was her duty to help the now-struggling tribe reclaim some of its rightful heritage.

Additionally, she feels a responsibility to teach her students the significance of the Nisenan and their stories.

Pettitt recently found an opportunity to give back to the tribe, in the form of office space on the school’s Bitney Springs property which was being unused and which the Nisenan could use to support their efforts.

“I met with (Nisenan spokeswoman) Shelly Covert,” said Pettitt. “We are on Nisenan land and we have a boatload of space. I try to acknowledge that.

“We set up a meeting, and we are giving them about 1,000 square feet of office space so they can display artifacts and then ideally build a roundhouse on our property where they felt it was appropriate.”

Pettitt admits that some of the motivation behind gifting Covert and her people the business space was in an attempt to rectify things long past, and acknowledge the heritage and traditions of the Nisenan.

The office space will be accepted by and used to operate California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project, the nonprofit organization that was created to research, preserve, and document Nisenan culture. They will continue operations on behalf of Nevada City Rancheria as well, a once federally recognized reservation of the Nisenan people of Northern California that was terminated in the 1950s and ’60s by the California Rancheria Termination Acts.

“It’s also to acknowledge the harm that (was) done,” she said. “I am willing to give them whatever they need, and my board is completely supportive of this. It’s an amazing opportunity to work together in education, and to have that right there for the kids to learn about.”

Covert, who has indigenous roots on the land and has become locally known for her vast knowledge and tireless advocacy of Native American rights, jumped at the chance to obtain new space where her organization can continue their efforts at restoration.

“We started a nonprofit because we are a terminated (tribe) and not federally recognized,” said Covert. “We’re fighting to get federally recognized and restored.”

Covert explained that the donation of the offices came about organically, and that things fell into place with several people lending their support.

“This was instigated a while ago, started by parents at the school who I had met through Racial Literacy Book Club,” Covert said. “We had a desire and wish for a viable, sustainable, Nisenan curriculum for our schools.”

At the same time, Pettitt and the powers that be at Nevada City School of the Arts were putting together their plan to aid the tribe.

The move is significant for the Nisenan people, Covert said, because of their status and the fact that the tribe doesn’t currently have a place to gather and meet. Although the tribe only claims 144 members, it is important to each of them to have a location where they can support each other and carry on with their mission.

Covert added that the tribe’s priceless artifacts are currently in a secured storage space – great for the protection of the items, but counterproductive for the tribe who wish to share their heritage with others.

Both the school and Covert say that the move into new business space will likely take place at the end of November.

Covert is ecstatic and grateful.

“It was really organic and magical,” she said. “These things you couldn’t plan better. When that offer came forward it made me feel seen, and it made me feel hopeful. People keep stepping up to offer help and offering things back to the tribe and it feels really good.”

“It was really an amazing moment of kismet,” Pettitt said. “I felt like I should be appreciative too. This is what we should be doing. It was a profound experience to be in that space with (Covert) and to know we are trying to make even a tiny reparation.”

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at jnobles@theunion.com or 530-477-4231.

This story has been updated to reflect that the Nevada City Rancheria remains unrecognized on a federal level.

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