Nisenan aim to rekindle community spirit Saturday |

Nisenan aim to rekindle community spirit Saturday

The Maidu Dancers and Traditionalists, including descendants of Chief Louis “Laloak” Kelly, the Nisenan’s last patriarch, at the 2012 Nisenan Heritage Day, held at Nevada City's Miners Foundry.
Akim Aginsky/Fifthframe Photography |


WHAT: Rekindling the Spirit, the Fourth Annual Nisenan Heritage Day

WHEN: 11 am to 4 pm on Saturday

WHERE: In the Multipurpose Center, Building N12, at the Sierra College Nevada County Campus in Grass Valley

Cost: Free

Staff members of the Sierra College’s Nevada County campus and members of the Nisenan tribe of the Nevada City Rancheria are touting their collaborative Heritage Day event Saturday as a milestone worth attending.

For the Nisenan, the fourth incarnation of the Heritage Day being held at Sierra College represents, for the first time, the largest opportunity yet to incorporate their perspective into the local historical narrative taught in the county’s education systems, said Shelly Covert, tribal council secretary for the Nevada City Rancheria.

“The Nisenan hold the truth about their history and can tell it like no one else,” said Judith Lowry, an artist and leader of the California Heritage Indigenous Research Project, “rather than leave it to teachers who have to troll the Internet looking for lesson plans on a subject about which they know little to nothing.”

For Mary Anne Kreshka, a member of the Sierra College Human Development and Family department, Saturday’s event provides an opportunity for non-natives “to recognize that the there are Native Americans living in our community and that it isn’t just the stereotype of them dressed up and having a pow-wow, but rather that they are contributing members in their community and that they have lives similar to the rest of us.”

Descendants from the Nevada City Rancheria will speak Saturday about their history, which dates back long before European settlers discovered what is now Nevada County and before the Gold Rush that fostered the county’s development.

“This is a group that has been here for thousands of years,” Kreshka said.

The Nisenan once had a 70-acre reservation, the Nevada City Rancheria, on what is now Cement Hill, created under the authority of President Woodrow Wilson. However, when the federal government stripped California’s tribes of their federal status following the 1958 California Rancheria Act, the Nisenan lost their land in 1964, according to tribal leaders.

While all but four of California’s previously terminated rancherias have regained their federally recognized status, the Nisenan are still fighting to restore their federal recognition. Covert estimates the tribe has no more than 100 recognized members, with another nearly as many pending confirmation.

“They were something of a hidden group that very much want to emerge and join with the college to present their story,” Kreshka said.

Hence this year’s Heritage Day theme is “Rekindling the Spirit of Community.” The community event is appropriate for all ages and families, and children are encouraged to attend. Parking is free, so is admission. Lunch boxes from BriarPatch Natural Foods Co-op will be available for purchase.

“Everything about this event is free,” Kreshka said. “It is important for young children to have as positive and wonderful an experience with great diversity around them, and this program will provide that for those that go on Saturday.”

Nisenan Heritage Day will feature artisans weaving baskets and mashing acorns, a traditional mainstay of the Nisenan diet.

“I think it will be very exciting,” Kreshka said. “The plan is to have it very interactive.”

There will also be discussions, demonstrations, merchandise, information booths, music and ceremonial dancers.

“Some of those dancers are direct descendants of old Chief Kelly,” Covert previously told The Union. “That’s huge that they can come here and dance on our homelands.”

Chief Louis “Laloak” Kelly was the Nisenan’s last patriarch. He died in 1964.

Native American academic and professional speakers will give individual presentations as well as panel-style discussion about current events and topics of historical and cultural relevance. Local authors will be on hand to discuss their books and offer to sign books for sale.

“This an event that has most definitely has educational reach to our students,” said Stephanie Ortiz, executive dean of Sierra College’s Nevada County campus.

Anyone interested in Nisenan Heritage Day can call 530-570-0846 or visit

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call 530-477-4236.

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