Passing on her history: Nevada City Rancheria to honor departed tribal member |

Passing on her history: Nevada City Rancheria to honor departed tribal member

Shelly Covert
Special to The Union
Carmel Rose Burrows, who recently died at the age of 93, sought to make certain her family's history survived with the Nevada City Rancheria beyond her death.
Submitted photo/Shelly Covert |

In her honor

This piece is written in honor of my maternal grandmother, Carmel Rose Burrows who celebrated her 93rd birthday on May 19 and passed away shortly after on May 29. Her strength is a testament to California’s Native American Women who survived the holocaust of the Gold Rush; her love a reminder that family is the most important thing we have; and her passion for our Native culture demands that we continue to resist total assimilation even today.

– Shelly Covert

Carmel Rose Burrows was Southern Nisenan, Northern Miwok Indian and Native Hawaiian.

She was a tribal member of the Nevada City Rancheria. Born Carmel Jackson in 1921, Carmel was orphaned at two years of age when her mother, Florence “Mandy” Jackson tragically died of tuberculosis.

Mandy was buried in Sacramento near her place of death. Mandy’s grandmother, Elizabeth “Lizzy” (Johnson) Jackson, wished Mandy to be buried beside her father, Budd Jackson, at their family burial grounds in Mokelumne Hill.

But, because Mandy’s family had no money, the body could not be moved and Mandy’s baby, Carmel, could not be relocated to her family for care.

Instead, Carmel was raised by a part African American and part Indian (Miwok/Nisenan) brother and sister known to the family as Aunty and her brother Uncle Sam.

“I really don’t know my connection with them. We assume it is through the Indian family somewhere up the tree. But, when my mother died, Aunty is the only one I would go to,” Carmel said in an interview about her life story.

As a young girl, Carmel lived with Aunty on the Auburn Indian Reservation just outside of Auburn, where they took care of Elders Captain Jim Dick and Jane Lewis.

During these years, the Federal Indian Agents were coming onto reservation lands, taking Indian children and forcibly placing them in government-run Indian boarding schools for means of assimilation.

“When the Indian agents showed up at the Auburn reservation, I hid under Aunty’s big skirts,” Carmel said.

“She told me to be very still and very quiet and I did.”

While Carmel escaped the horrors of the boarding school experience, from the age of five she worked in the fields beside Aunty picking whatever was in season: hops, grapes, cherries, lettuce, etc.

They traveled as migratory workers going where the fields needed harvesting.

It was during cherry picking time when Carmel met Frances “Dutch” Rose, the last leader of the Nisenan people tied to the Nevada City Rancheria. Dutch’s eldest sister assisted in an arranged marriage between Dutch and Carmel.

Carmel was absorbed into the Rose/Potts clan living between Dobbins, Nevada City, Grass Valley, North San Juan, Brownsville, and other towns that were once part of Dutch’s ancestral territories. Carmel had six girls, was midwife to six children, birthed one of her own daughters at home on her own, and was a great healer of the old ways.

Before passing away, Carmel provided countless hours of interviews about her life and the culture that remained with her.

She recounted stories of the past complete with names and places and cautioned the family not to lose their history and culture.

She added to the living Nisenan dictionary recounting words, songs and stories in the Nisenan language that is in critical danger of being lost.

Carmel was preceded in death by her daughter, Mary Anne Start, and is survived by daughters Alberta Gallez, Doris Vaughan, Virginia Covert, Lorena Davis, and Cynthia Buero, and a large, loving family.

There will be a “gathering to remember” at noon on Saturday st the home of her daughter in Grass Valley. Contact Shelly Covert at 530-570-0846 or Lorena Davis at 530-268-1657 for address and directions.

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