Other voices: My grandmother liked to eat grasshoppers | TheUnion.com

Other voices: My grandmother liked to eat grasshoppers

My grandmother, Edna, liked to eat grasshoppers. She roasted and salted batches of them, then ate them like folks today eat roasted peanuts or popcorn shrimp. Insects and grubs, rich in nutrition, were traditional foods of her tribe, the Hamawi of Northeastern California.

Although she lived well into the 20th century in the style of the Anglos, she retained many of her mother’s tribal practices. At Stewart Indian School, she wore Gibson Girl dresses with starched leg-of-mutton sleeves, yet her chin bore tattooed clan markings signifying her family and status. She was a polyglot, communicating in dialects of Hamawi, Maidu, Paiute, Modoc and English – languages as distinct from one another as Chinese is from Swedish.

She married a Maidu man, Robert Lowry, of Greenville. They settled in Susanville and raised a large family. My dad, Leonard Lowry, was their youngest son.

Traditionally, the Maidu are a pluralistic society, bound by a mother language yet separated into distinct groups, or “bands.” The diet, dress, customs, ceremonies and all ways of life were directly related to their physical surroundings. From these territorial “home places,” they drew identity, sustenance and spiritual inspiration. Each band evolved in its own unique way.

Once the largest tribe in California, the Maidu flourished in the nutrition-rich environment of the Sacramento Delta. From there, they spread out across the flats and up into the foothills. About 2,000 years ago, my ancestral band arrived and settled in the High Sierra, now known as Lassen and Plumas counties. Along the way, they married among other tribes and races. This “blood-mixing” helped maintain the health of the tribes, which was robust and marked by longevity. My Maidu ancestors summered in Indian Valley and wintered in Susanville, known to us as Pon-se-wim Goi-dum, or Good Place to Gather Willows. Our family remains there to this day. We are the Notakyu band of the Mountain Maidu.

In the Union article of July 20, Dave Moller described the Native-inspired architectural concept for the new ChapaDe health clinic as a “hogan.” A hogan is a Navajo dwelling structure from Arizona, quite different from a California roundhouse.

Volumes have been written about the roundhouses – sacred gathering places found throughout California. Information about roundhouses can be found online. A good place to start is with Heyday Books and the quarterly magazine, News from Native California. Heyday publishes many books pertaining to the multicultural history of California. UCLA Professor Peter Nabokov writes about roundhouses in many cultures, including our own in California. For specifics about the Sierra Foothill’s places, tribes and families, “Deeper Than Gold” is laid out very well by historian Brian Bibby and illustrated with beautiful photographs by Dugan Aguilar. They and many others devote their lives to the preservation and historical accuracy of California’s tribal histories.

As an artist, educator and cultural preservationist for my tribal heritage, I work with museums, universities and indigenous cultural venues across the country. Locally, most of my work involves the Maidu Interpretive Center in Roseville, an excellent source of information about the Maidu people and a site of many cultural and educational gatherings pertaining to indigenous California life, both past and present. Although Nevada County is where I reside, it is not my “home place.” As long as I live here, I remain a guest of the Maidu people who call this place home. Traditional customs and protocols require this.

Many local citizens know about or remember “Chief” Kelly of Nevada City. His family was one of the very few to survive the Gold Rush. Within a period of two years, the several thousand Maidu people who had lived here for centuries were killed, driven off or died of disease. To my knowledge, the Kellys were the only family to remain here into the mid-20th century. If any other Maidu families are able to trace their tenancy in Nevada City to 1849, it would be an honor to meet them.

Mrs. Rose Kelly Enos, Chief Kelly’s granddaughter, is recognized by scholars and writers as one of the most respected culture bearers of our time. From her home in the Auburn hills, she and her family for decades have preserved the rituals and customs – most notably the spring and fall dances – integral to the Maidu cosmology and annual cycle.

Rose is a modest woman who never sought to exploit her heritage or court the recognition or acclaim that came her way over the years. She just works hard. This is the Maidu way. As such, my late father, also a cultural educator, taught me that she was a person to hold in high esteem. I cannot speak for people of the other tribes and bands who reside here, but I feel certain they would agree that Mrs. Enos is long overdue for recognition here in Nevada City, her ancestral home.

Seldom in the numerous local celebrations of the Gold Rush is this particular segment of local history viewed with respect to the Maidu people. The things that occurred when half of San Francisco, and good deal of the rest of the world, emptied into these hills were harsh for the Maidu people and do not reflect well upon the mining culture.

Nothing can be done to change that. All cultures have some dark historical details, my tribes included. We are all of the human race and therefore fallible. We are also capable of great goodness. By recognizing and honoring those who survived a time of dreadful upheaval and whose descendants live and work today to carry on important traditions, we can add our own graceful chapter to the history of Nevada County.

Now, we face some serious global challenges, and we’re all in it together. Atonement or apology from one group to another seems rather pointless. But education, understanding and the simple recognition of who the Maidu people were, and who they are today, might be very good for the heart of the Gold Country.


Judith Lowry-Croul lives in Nevada City.

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