A visit to the 7th annual Nisenan Heritage Day: honoring our past

We enjoyed the 7th annual Nisenan Heritage Day at the Nevada County campus of Sierra College this weekend. The event continues to grow each year, raising awareness of California’s Native Americans, including the Nisenan, the indigenous people of Nevada County.

It draws people from throughout the region. “We’ve multiplied our resources and are getting stronger,” said Shelly Covert, tribal council secretary of the Nevada City Rancheria. This year’s theme was “Return of the Salmon Doctor.”

California is the state home to the highest population of Native Americans in the country. It also is home to exceptional research on Native Americans, including the Native American studies program at UC Berkeley (our alma mater) and UC Davis. And the state is home to museums that feature Native American artwork, including the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento and Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles.

Both museums have featured the inspiring artwork of Nevada City artist Judith Lowry. Judith also has been a leader of the California Heritage Indigenous Research Project (CHIRP), a nonprofit created to research, document, preserve, and protect California Indigenous culture. She has been a major force behind Nisenan Heritage Day and hosted a panel “Native Americans in Art.”

Nisenan Heritage Day was filled with speakers, artisans, basket weavers and tribal dancers, combining entertainment with education. We also enjoyed the authentic Indian tacos.

Some highlights included:

•A discussion about Nisenan language and efforts to reclaim the language. “Your language was scattered to the winds, and now the winds are blowing it back,” noted Dr. Sheri Tatsch, a linguist and scholar of indigenous cultures at UC Davis. She began teaching Nisenan in her kitchen at home to a small group, and now the classes are held throughout the region — mirroring a national effort by Native American tribes to reclaim their languages. Nisenan families from three generations were on the panel to share their experiences.

•A sneak peek of a sign “The River: A Way of Life — Salmon & Ceremony” that will be displayed on the South Yuba River near the Hwy. 20 bridge. It was at the SYRCL (South Yuba River Citizens League) booth. A photo of the sign, along with a Facebook photo gallery from Nisenan Heritage Day, is HERE.

•We’ve long been big fans of Heyday books in Berkeley, a niche nonprofit publisher that focuses on California’s cultural heritage, so we were pleased to meet Vincent Medina, a Heyday writer, Ohlone Indian and language activist. Vincent also discussed his involvement in a group called “Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival.”

Heyday’s founder Malcolm Margolin also was present. In our area, Heyday has published books by Nevada County Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder and Marin County printmaker Tom Killion, also featured in the current issue of our magazine. A digital version of our two-page feature on Nisenan Heritage Day and “Gary Snyder & Tom Killion: The Art of Friendship” is HERE.

•Nevada County Tribal Chairman Richard Johnson led an informative panel discussion “Termination and the Battle for Restoration of the Nevada City Rancheria.” A video interview of Richard Johnson is HERE.

•A panel discussion “How We Built Collaboration to Develop Local Indian Resources for a Rural Community and Bring Recognition to their Indigenous Peoples.” More details about this project are HERE.

We look forward to next year’s Nisenan Heritage Day and in the meantime have some exciting features planned in upcoming issues of our magazine about our Sierra heritage, including the Native American culture.

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