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Spirit run: Ceremony highlights Indigenous Peoples Day

"Spirit Runners" make it back to Sycamore Ranch Park after running miles from the river up Highway 20 to ceremoniously "call back the salmon," as part of the second day of Indigenous Peoples Days, Saturda.
Courtesy Marysville Appeal-Democrat |

Early Saturday morning, when the Buttes were still blanketed in darkness, nearly 100 people bundled up at Sycamore Ranch (between Marysville and Browns Valley) to sing and pray for new beginnings.

That new start was ushered in by the Indigenous Peoples Days’ Sunrise Ceremony, which transitioned to sending off “spirit runners” to carry a speared salmon from the Yuba River back to the site, ceremoniously “calling back the salmon.”

Ronnie Griffman of the Karuk tribe is from Mt. Shasta and has run in different native ceremonies all over the country for about eight years. Before coming to Browns Valley, Griffman was in Taos, N.M., and at Standing Rock.



“I enjoy the experience and the laughter, family, supporting one another,” Griffman said.

He said he does a little training before runs, but didn’t fast this week in preparation for the “calling back the salmon” run, meaning he could not carry the salmon down Highway 20 to the ceremony, though he could still run with the group of about seven.




“But he can still protect the fish,” said Grayson Coney, cultural director for the Tsi-akim Maidu tribe.

Griffman’s grandfather was Charlie “Red Hawk” Thom, a well-known medicine man of the Karuk tribe, who died in 2013. Griffman said his grandfather, Coney and other elders of various tribes have served as mentors for him, especially the storytelling aspect.

“We don’t get together and (drink),” Coney said, “we get together and tell stories.”

Once the spirit runners brought back the salmon, the ceremony started with a circle made with anchored rocks, sticks and cattails, with a small center portion of the grass shoveled out and filled with an incense and last-years offerings of charcoal. Here, prayers were for the wellbeing of the water and salmon.

The fish was then cut up and cooked over a traditional fire to be served at the community potluck feast. The warm afternoon consisted of storytelling, praying, singing and a Veterans’ Talking Circle.

Sherry Roach of Reno, has traveled to Browns Valley for Indigenous Peoples Days for 18 of its 19 years.

“The sacredness,” Roach said is the reason she keeps attending. “The feeling that we belong to the earth.”

Her friend Maryan Tooker is also from Reno; this was her second year at the local celebration. She said she appreciates that everyone is so welcoming of all cultures and religions and enjoys taking part in the calling back the salmon ceremony.

“It’s a different ceremony to honor because we all depend on the earth,” Tooker said. “Without water, nothing lives.”

Griffman said he continues to be a spirit runner and take part in the celebrations for a spiritual cause:.

“To work on that purity. Together: one voice, one heart,” Griffman said. “All the things to represent unity.”

Rosenbaum can be reached at rrosenbaum@tcnpress.com.


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