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Gathering puts spotlight on native cultures

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Art, celebration and community were the themes of the Northern Sierra Miwok’s annual acorn gathering event at Indian Grinding Rock State Park, that took place on Sept. 22-23.

The annual two-day festival is held at the historic state park in Amador County the fourth weekend in September. Indian grinding rock was a gathering place for Native Americans for thousands of years, until Europeans settled there because of the Gold Rush.

A vibrant, multi-cultural crowd celebrated the harvest with vendors, stories, food, and traditional song and dance.

“It’s a spiritual thing, it helps bring me out of my blues,” Richard Sallee, a Paiute tribal member, said. “I am able to recharge my cultural batteries.”

Photo courtesy: Emily Tessmer
Native art, cultural practices, food and more were on display at the
Northern Sierra Miwok’s annual acorn gathering.

Sallee returns every year to the celebration. He expected to connect with his uncle and son later that afternoon, adding that his grandmother from Yosemite would also be there.

Many different tribes were represented at the event including the Miwok, Pauite, and Washoe. Clothing, artwork, jewelry, flutes and drums were some of the wares available at the gathering. There were many native and non-native people enjoying the celebration’s fall traditions.

Nash Tavewa, a flute and drum maker, has been making flutes for 25 years. Tavewa, from the Benhe Walash tribe, also known as the “cloud people,” attends many native gatherings throughout the state of California and hails from Colfax.

“I started making flutes when I was a kid,” Tavewa said. “The first flute I made was an Ocarina, which is a small ceramic flute.”

Tavewa’s arsenal of single and double reed flutes boasted many different keys and a multitude of woods, including walnut, cherry, mahogany and maple. His passion for his craft was noticeable and his product was masterful.

Additionally, community-based outreach organizations were in attendance. Omara Farooq, from the California Tribal Epidemiology Center, was present doing surveys specific to Native American issues.

“We serve many tribes, and work with health clinics,” Farooq said. “We provide behavioral health assessments and treatment for tribes.”

Farooq also described a domestic violence project that the California Tribal Epidemiology Center was gathering data for, adding that they were present to collect behavioral risk surveys for local native populations, and that they were hoping to get a better idea of what is needed to provide assistance to different tribes in the state of California.

One of the event’s main attractions is the traditional Miwok round house at the state park. The ceremonial cedar building boasted a roaring fire inside, with Miwok dancers in their regalia drumming, dancing and chanting.

Just outside the building sat a young boy holding a sign that said, “No Pictures.”

In order to view the dancers in the roundhouse there are rules in place to protect its sanctity, such as: enter in between dances, don’t leave until after a dance is completed and ask for permission before taking photographs of Native Americans.

“You should always present an offering to anyone you wish to take a picture of,” Sallee said. “A little Tobacco, or sage would be an acceptable gift.”

Many families and groups sat in circle, drumming and chanting in their native language as they celebrated the opportunity gather as a community.

“I want to present the native culture, preserve it and keep it alive,” Tavewa said. “For future generations, not just for native people, but for humanity.”

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Gathering puts spotlight on native cultures