Tribal awareness on display: Heritage Day a war cry for Nisenan recognition |

Tribal awareness on display: Heritage Day a war cry for Nisenan recognition

Nisenan tribal elder Richard Johnson is overcome with emotion after describing the cultural and historic trauma that his people endured, while sitting with Shelly Covert and Dr. Sheri Tatsch (not pictured) during a segment of Saturday's Nisenan Heritage Day held at the Sierra College gymnasium in Grass Valley.
Elias Funez/ |

Nisenan Heritage Day has been known to be a festive and informative event honoring the local Native American tribe with interactive booths, tightly woven baskets and colorfully dressed native dancers.

A portion of Saturday’s event at Sierra College held a particularly somber tone though as Nisenan tribal elder Richard Johnson spoke of the cultural and historic trauma that his people endured.

“In the 1940’s my grandparents went downtown to the post office. On the way back they stopped off at a grocery store, this was right downtown Nevada City,” Johnson said to the crowd. “As they continued to walk up through the center part of Grass Valley, the chief of police of Nevada City, the highest law enforcement officer in the community, walked up behind my grandfather and beat him over the head with a billy club. Knocked him to the ground, bloodied his head, grandma is sitting there trying to put cloth over it to try to stop the bleeding. The groceries went into the gutter and all the way down the streets. That was a typical experience for my grandparents and every other family that lived in this area if you were a Native American,” Johnson said before getting choked up with emotion.

“They went home, he finally got healed, but the point is, that was common in the 40s, the 50s, the 60s. These things are the things that happened to our people and are still happening to us today.”

Shelly Covert, seated next to Johnson, picked up where Johnson left off and reminded the crowd how the local Nisenan Rancheria, lost its recognition as an Indian reservation which was never reinstated, though others in the state were.

Other events during the day included discussions about native women in the media.

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