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Learn about the earliest inhabitants of Nevada County at Nisenan Heritage Day

Teresa Yinmeng Liu
Staff Writer
Carolyn Jones-Rogers, left, Roxy Peconom, and Diana Bracken grind acorns during last year's Nisenan Heritage Day.
The Union file photo | The Union

The Nisenan tribe of Nevada County invites the community to share the vibrant history and culture of one of the earliest people to inhabit the foothills through Nisenan Heritage Day, which is slated for Friday and Saturday at Sierra College.

Shelly Covert, tribal council secretary of the Nevada City Rancheria, said the celebration is an initiative to reestablish a relationship with the residents by showcasing some of the elements that make up the Nisenan culture, such as art, history, and music.

“We started the Heritage Day to make that connection again with the community,” said Covert. “As the old-timers of the tribe passed away, and the old-timers of the county passed away, people started forgetting (about the Nisenan) … so we wanted to bring Nisenan Heritage Day to shine that focus on our indigenous tribe.”

The festivities will run from 6-9 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Sierra College’s Multipurpose Center.

“We started the Heritage Day to make that connection again with the community. As the old-timers of the tribe passed away, and the old-timers of the county passed away, people started forgetting (about the Nisenan) …”Shelly Coverttribal council secretary of the Nevada City Rancheria

The actual Nisenan Heritage Day is Saturday. Covert said the council added a “night before the Nisenan Heritage Day” to highlight the music and art of the Nisenan people, but also to expand the celebration.

“We had 400-600 guests last year,” said Covert. “We are trying to accommodate more people, and to make sure to include the artistic side of the event.”

An art reception on Friday will be followed by performance of Covert’s band, the South Fork Band, at 7:30 p.m., said Covert.

Then on Saturday, participants will have a chance to experience the customs of the tribe through activities such as tribal dances, demonstration of acorn grinding, and a presentation of native healing methods.

Those who want to learn about the heritage and history of the tribe will also be able to listen to speeches by tribal members and Native American educators, Covert said.

Although this is the sixth installation of the Nisenan Heritage Day, it’s the third time the event has been held at Sierra College. Covert said there’s a motive behind this decision.

“Because we weren’t out there in the academic world, our community has really forgotten about our Nisenan people,” said Covert. “We want to remind the community what the Nisenan people are. We have been here before the Gold Rush, and we are here still,” she added.

Covert said there are currently 90 certified members of the Nisenan community, in addition to 80 more members who will be certified.

The first Nisenan settled in the watersheds of Yuba, Bear and American rivers thousands of years ago. In 1887, Tribal Chief Charley Cully obtained an allotment of land on Cement Hill in Nevada City, which later became federally recognized as Nevada City Rancheria by President Woodrow Wilson’s executive order in 1911.

However, the Nisenan’s claim of the rancheria was terminated in 1964. At the same time, the tribe was stripped of its federal recognition, which severed their ties to federal grants and programs.

As a result, the tribe has been actively working to regain the federal recognition.

Those attending will have the opportunity to get a taste of the tribe’s cuisine. This will be the first year that the tribal members will sell Native American tacos during Heritage Day, Covert said. The tacos consist of fried bread stuffed with ground beef, lettuce and tomato, among other ingredients.

“There’s a tradition of sharing food (in the Nisenan heritage),” said Judith Lowry, Native American educator and the founder of California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project, or CHIRP, which is a sponsor of the event. Lowry said the Nisenan people want the community to understand their culture and also want to work with the community.

The important thing tribe members want the community to know, Covert said, is “that we are still here, that we have not gone, and we have a lot to offer and share.”

The Nisenan Heritage Day is co-sponsored by the Nevada City Rancheria, CHIRP, Sierra College and the Nevada County Historical Society.

To contact Staff Writer Teresa Yinmeng Liu, email tliu@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.


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