Nisenan Heritage Day on November 12 in Grass Valley

BEFORE THE GOLD RUSH AND muddying of the Yuba and Bear rivers from hydraulic mining, “maj” (sounds like “my”), or salmon, were integral to the Nisenan way of life, says Shelly Covert, tribal council secretary of the Nevada City Rancheria, the indigenous people of the area.

A Nisenan salmon doctor was in continual commune with the water spirits and the salmon. He or she would feed the first cooked bites to all the “huk” (male headman or leader) and “mayan” (female head person). After this ancient protocol was finished, the salmon doctor would open the sea-son and allow the people to begin gathering the great bounty.

The Nevada City Rancheria Tribal Council is seeking to revitalize this ancient custom for their families, the community, the waterways—and the salmon.

The “Return of the Nisenan Salmon Doctor” is a theme for this year’s 7th annual Nisenan Heritage Day, held at the Nevada County campus of Sierra College in Grass Valley on November 12, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

The gathering is hosted by the Nevada City Rancheria and the California Heritage Indigenous Research Project (CHIRP) and co-sponsored by Sierra College, the Nevada County Historical Society, the Nevada County Library and Sierra Streams Institute.

Nisenan Heritage Day includes speakers, artisans, Tribal dancers, panel discussions, master basket weavers, acorn and pine nut processing demonstrations, and informational booths.

“This is an opportunity to learn about our area’s indigenous people, the Nisenan, their once federally recognized reservation, their illegal termination and their fight for restoration,” says Covert, one of the organizers.

Nisenan Heritage Day’s previous themes have included “Honoring Our Past,” “Envisioning Our Future” and “We Remain.”

The historic No. 1 Firehouse Museum in Nevada City has an informative Nisenan exhibit that includes watertight baskets, arrowheads, pounding stones and an extensive photo collection.

“Angkula Seo” bridge, 150-foot steel suspension bridge that crosses Deer Creek in Nevada City, honors the Nisenan. It is part of the Deer Creek Tribute Trail.

A Native American Veteran’s exhibit “Leonard Lowry: Warrior Son of the Honey Lake Village” is planned for Nov. 11 at Powell House in Nevada City. Native American artist Judith Lowry will speak about her father, a decorated World War II soldier.

(Photo: Akim Aginsky)

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