Greg Sarris Speech, Pomo Heritage Week
Alright, thank you. Thank you Sandy.
Welcome everybody. And again I want to thank the Sebastopol City Council for passing the ordinances. I think any recognition or understanding of history is very important for all of us. Whether you know it or not, wherever you are, you inherit the history of the place you live. It works on you in ways you may or may not know.
I especially want to say thank you to Sandy and all of the folks that you work with to put this together. It means a lot to us. For so long, so many of us have felt invisible. I often jokingly say, “Until there were casinos, nobody knew there were California Indians.” You did those little missions with sugar cubes in 4th grade. After that, we vanished into thin air, like sugar and water. But, we stayed and I want to talk a little about the history of the people of this place.
I want to begin by talking about the general history of the Southern Pomo and the Coast Miwok. They share a history and they comprise the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria today. First of all, it is important to understand that there was no such thing as Pomo or Coast Miwok. These are linguistic terms that early linguists and ethnographers used to classify people by language families.
Here is a map. This is Pomo speakers here [pointing to the map]. Wappo which is something else altogether. And then Coast Miwok down here.
The Pomo language is a Hokan language. The Hokan language families can be found from here in the north and all the way down to Michoacan and Oaxaca in Mexico. The languages are quite different. But they are from the same language family — as is the case with German or Latin.
Here, the Coast Miwok, these are Penutian languages that mainly go north . . . they go east and north of here. Within the same group, we never identified ourselves by a language family or larger group of this sort. We always were identified by place or the village we came from. Most villages have names or are described by a feature of the landscape in which the village lives.
We are sitting here right now [pointing to map]. On the lagoon, if we look at the three major villages here. We have in the Pomo language.
Bood a ca—bear
“Bear scratching itself place.”
Here is “water comes down.” And something shining in there, but I can’t translate because I don’t know the language that well.
Here is “Clover picking.” .
Descriptions of the villages have a lot to do with where the people were.
You are familiar with Petaluma. In the Coast Miwok language Petaluma means “slope ridge.” The aboriginal village of Petaluma was about three miles northeast of the present city of Petaluma. I am going to talk more about this later. But if you look at each of these arrows, each is a principal village at the time of contact. You can see how many people are in this area. This is the Russian River. This Miwok here, this means “chalk place” near Freestone.
In the old days, the people often spoke as many as ten to fifteen different languages. Some of those were as different as English is from Chinese. The Penutian language from here is completely different from the Hokan.
Within the Pomo areas there is great variation. This is Southern Pomo. When you go southwest it is a little different. When you go north or northeast in the Lake County region, it is unintelligible to the Pomo speakers from this region. There isn’t quite as much variation within the Coast Miwok territory which runs from south of where we are to what today is the Golden Gate Bridge. There is some variation, but not as much as in the Pomo area.
One of the reasons for that, but it is a theory (I don’t really subscribe to theories). One of the theories is the Pomoan speakers have been here longer, so there is more variation in their language. But, when you are talking 5000-10,000 years, who is counting? Right?
Where you are sitting now, and as this map will begin to show you, there were more native people in Sonoma, Lake, and Marin counties per capita than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere except for Mexico City. There were more people here per capita.
The anthropologists often ask, “How did so many people, living so close together, speaking so many different languages get along so well for 10,000 years?” The early padres said that the California Indians were the dumbest that they had come across. But we always tend to see others in the same way that we see ourselves. Westerners always saw the Plains Indians as the most sophisticated. Why? Because they had what westerners or Europeans considered organized warfare, warriors, they had war cults. They had horses, warriors. They were very fierce.
The California Indians, they couldn’t understand. They sat around. Were we stupid? No. What the Europeans couldn’t understand was subtlety. We poisoned you. (Laughter). This is somewhat of a joke but it is also true.
In all seriousness, the question is: How did so many people, living so close together for so long a period, get along? Speaking so many different languages, so many different cultures. Basically, we had a system—and I’m going to be general. We had a system that saw in everything, even in a rock, the potential to protect itself and take care of itself. There was so much power in everything. Everything had spirit, everything had power. Such that, if you violated it in some way, it could come back on you.
The same with people. Even if I was a good person, and you did something or spoke badly of me. I would have secret songs, or belong to a secret cult that you didn’t know about, it could result in your wife or child dropping dead tomorrow. If you had to hit somebody, you only demonstrated that you had no real spiritual power. Violence was seen as the lowest form of warfare. Because if you hit somebody, or if you shot someone, and others saw you, it said you had nothing else and you could be attacked without repercussion.
What that did is it constantly reminded you as a citizen of this place, that you were not the center of the world. But always a part, and you didn’t know it all. In fact it reminded you constantly of what you didn’t know. And I would argue that it kept you humble and respectful.
The Kashaya Pomo word for white people was – [word spoken by Greg] — which means miracle. I used to ask the old people, “Why do you call white people ‘miracles.’” And they said, “Because when they were first coming, they were killing all the animals, they were chopping down trees, and killing people. But instead of getting punished, more of them kept coming. We thought they were miraculous.” As we all sitting here today know, it just took a little longer. It took 200 years. Nobody escapes any kind of violation to any kind of life at all.
Again, people often said that the anthropologists characterized our world or our life as cultures predicated on black magic and fear. When I would argue that it was actually predicated on respect.
How did it work, actually? There were no central or organized religions, as such. There were many secret cults. People belonged to cults. You didn’t know who belonged to what. Your wife, your partner, you didn’t know. There was a long time of training. This kind of cult business required long term training and certain kinds of behavior. This kind of structure enabled a lot of people to have a sustained relationship with place. For example, to belong and train in one of these cults, you had to abstain from eating meat for seven years. Abstain from sex for up to seven years. A “low footprint” formula. But again the practices enabled a way for many people to be together.
If someone was different from another village, you wouldn’t go and say, “I’m going to kill them because they think differently from me.” Instead, you would go– number one, “I need to respect this person.” And number 2, you would say, “I may need that medicine someday.” You don’t know. It became again a very different kind of thing. Again, it enabled so many people to live together in basically a nonviolent existence. And sustainable.
What happened? I’ll just outline the history.
First the Spanish came. Now the Spanish didn’t get up this far. But with the Mission Dolores in San Francisco in 1797-98, they began crossing the water to get recruits. They came almost as far as Petaluma. They did drag in many of the Coast Miwok people. Then mission San Rafael was built in 1823. That was built originally as a hospital for the sick and dying Indians in Mission Dolores in San Francisco. So they brought them there. Of course a year later, Mission Solano in Sonoma was built. Ultimately, so many people died at Mission San Rafael, but they kept bringing in Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo people.
Now, it is interesting, because by the time the missions began to get up here in these regions, these Indian people would begin to hear the stories about how difficult it was and that the missions were not a good thing.
People often wonder why the people up here didn’t begin to fight back. There weren’t that many Spanish. They understood that once the folks left the mission, they would be carrying diseases back to their communities. Remember that it was European diseases that wiped out 60-70% of the population. So even if somebody from Mission San Rafael were to try to run back home, often the people at home wouldn’t want them because they knew they were carrying disease. Disease began to spread nonetheless. Disease began to decimate communities.
What happened in the environment. The animals had a very friendly relationship with the human beings. You could walk among the deer and pet them. Not the grizzly bears. You could walk amongst the birds and they wouldn’t fly up. They only began flying up and running when the muskets began being shot with guns. They began to associate the human beings with the noise. They didn’t register that this is going to kill me, necessarily. (I don’t know, I’m not a deer or anything). But they did register the startling noise. They began to run. It began to change the relationship.
Let me just get back here. The Spanish established the missions. They separated the men from women. They put clothes on us. The first two laws that the Spanish enacted in this region were laws against bathing and the laws against burning. No nude people of course. We bathe every morning and are very clean. Now remember that the Europeans didn’t bathe, or bathed very rarely. Once we began to put clothes on and get locked together in rooms at night, it was close quarters and disease could spread.
And again, the burning. We did controlled burning. It was a part of the ecology here for thousands of years. The Spaniards and later the Mexicans interpreted that as burning grasses away from their cattle and horses. So they immediately stopped that. And you can imagine how they felt about nudity. If you look at the things that the Franciscan padres wrote, it is interesting to see how they dealt with matters of the human body in the face of native cultures. Anyway, they came. During the time these missions were opening, here, Mission San Rafael and Mission Solano.
There was of course the Mexican Revolution going on. But news travelled slowly. There were no cell phones or whatever. It wasn’t until the missions were secularized and the Indians were thrown off. We were given private lands, but the Mexicans usurped those. They established the rancho system. My friends tell me to say Californio. In the Californio period, General Vallejo established the rancho system– this was one of the most elaborate slaves trading systems in the new world. They took all of our men and sold them. They traded them to the ranchos– traded them as far away as Mexico. What women who were around served as concubines for the Mexican soldiers.
Those of us who were around, we worked in and around the ranchos. General Vallejo on his adobe, on Adobe Road in Penngrove and Cotati, Petaluma. It became a very difficult period. The Mexicans were extremely harsh, extremely cruel. And then of course, as you know, came the Bear Flag revolution in 1848. California became a state in 1850. The very first piece of legislation that they enacted was the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians — which legalized Indian slavery. Indians became the rightful property of whosever land they were on. That was not repealed until 1868, three years after the Civil War. So while African-Americans were free at that time in this area, Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo people were sold and traded back and forth by ranchers in this area. They were often sold on Saturday mornings in the square in Santa Rosa. That law was repealed in 1868. Then we became indentured servants on little ranchos, or wherever we could live.
We were basically indentured servants. Often it was a system where an Indian woman became a “squaw wife” for a settler until he could get a white woman from the East. So, the trade-off was that she stayed with him and satisfied him and maybe brought in some of her family. He would feed her oats or whatever. Often he would keep her in the barn with the animals. Then his other wife would come. Many of us are descendants of those kinds of arrangements here today.
By the turn of the 20th century, people were pouring in. Many people were coming into this area, and throughout California for that matter. There were lots of complaints about the homeless Indians here and there all over the place. Many were mixed with Spanish, and German and everything else. So, the federal government created the Rancheria system. They created homes for the so-called homeless Indian population. They didn’t identify us by tribes or anything, they just gave us tracts of land. They de facto created tribes by survivors.
For instance, in our area, the Graton Rancheria — 15.3 acres just over here off of Occidental Road — was created “for the homeless Indians of Tomales Bay, Bodega Bay, Sebastopol and the vicinities thereof. ” Only 3 of those acres are really inhabitable. We were put there and de facto became the Graton tribe. We were comprised of survivors from this area—Southern Pomo and Coast Miwok. That Rancheria was terminated illegally in 1958. We fought and got our rights back.
Let me go back to the landscape. What happened here in this area? By the time the Mexican period was through, the water table in most of our region had dropped 200 feet. They had done significant bombing of lagoons, lakes. Tolay Lake was a very sacred lake to us. One of the things that Vallejo did in 1835-36 was dynamite it and drain the lake. They drained the waterways for farming. I’ll talk a bit when I get to the Sebastopol
The lagoon was very important. The waterways were greatly affected and the water table dropped. They did many things to drain the water. They drained, water was crucial to us. And I’ll show you in a moment.
Of course the other thing that happened, as you know, there were great herds of elk, pronghorn, and of course deer. Quail were walking across the land two and three miles wide and thick, in flocks. Great clouds across the earth, the quail were so thick. Elk, much like you see in Africa with these great herds thundering across the land. Throughout the entire region. The Petaluma and the southern Santa Rosa plain were well known for dense herds of elk and pronghorn.
Grizzly Bear was ruler of the land. I told you how many people there were. There were more Grizzlies. The Grizzly was the boss. We were second in terms of the hierarchy. We never saw ourselves in terms of hierarchy.
Anyway, people say, “What happened to all of those so fast?” Well it is very interesting. If you look here, there are villages along the coast, and villages here. But what is in between? This was all redwood forest.
Dark, dark, redwood forest. Who lived there? The Grizzlies! We didn’t go in there. We called it Siyo. The other animals didn’t go in there. That was where the Grizzlies lived. One of the things the Mexicans did, in particular, is they would rush great herds of the animals to the edge of the redwood forests and slaughter them. Because the animals wouldn’t run into the darkness knowing that the bears were there, so they stopped. And they slaughtered them the way they slaughtered the buffalo on the plains —en masse.
Everything began to change. The cattle and sheep came up. The entire landscape became changed to what you know today. We did not have golden hills up here. Sorry to break the great illusion. We had evergreen, bunch grasses and all of that. The oak grass and all those things that Muir wrote about, the pristine nature — that is all from cow and horse shit, from the impact of the Mexicans and the Spaniards. That is how it got here. That changed the landscape radically. Then you quit burning. And you start affecting all of the trees. Disease begins to affect the trees. As we are finding out now, besides the water with the salmon, the reason that some of the redwoods are so stressed, the second and third growth, is that they were dependent on the fish rot in the water that fed them.
For us the landscape was a bible, was our text. We read it. We knew, for instance, not to go to the coast and eat shellfish from the time the elderberry bloomed until the time it dropped its fruit. Red tide, folks. That is the condition that people found themselves. We watched the landscape. What happens to a people when you burn their text? They don’t have it, we are homeless, we are lost. It is not our home anymore. It is not recognizable. And that is the condition that people found themselves in the early part of the 20th century.
Let’s talk specifically about the Sebastopol folks. Again, densely, densely populated. Where we are sitting here, by the lagoon—now these are ethnographer maps. By the time the ethnographers got here, more than half of us had been wiped out. From what we can remember or saw, there were about ten major villages along here. And a conservative estimate of 3000-5000 people who lived along here (along the laguna). And some of the old folks talk about it as a continuous village, all running together, a city in fact. Five different nations, and speaking different languages. And again, each of these is described with a part of the landscape. Something that went on there, and you were of course identified with that place.
So, we of course got caught in the whole system. The Sebastopol Indian people and in Santa Rosa, the Catamara, a Southern Pomo tribe from the Santa Rosa plain. They really fought the Mexicans, they organized. They had gotten the word, the word travelled up—“The missions ain’t good, the Mexicans ain’t good.” So they began to organize and fight. There were two or three major battles. One where they attempted to burn the Mission San Rafael. And a couple of times where they tried to burn the fort on Adobe Road. Of course, a lot of our women were being held at that time as slaves and concubines at the fort. The young girls were kept there as concubines for the Mexican soldiers. They were known as difficult and fierce. Eventually they were defeated, not just by the Mexican people, but also by some of the Indian people who had been co-opted from the south to fight with the Mexicans. Again diseases and so forth. Many of the survivors fled north. People were generally moving north, those that could survive. The villages along here were crucial.
And now I need to tell you about the politics. I have already mentioned the religious system. Politically we were organized around water which also helped maintain a sustainable relationship with the land. It wasn’t just a philosophy, but it was a political relationship that helped maintain a sustainable landscape. The Laguna was at the heart. If you see, the Santa Rosa creek and the other creeks feeding into here feed into it. It was crucial, even up on Sonoma Mountain to take care of the creeks since they fed into the Laguna. In turn, the Laguna people had to then let others come and pick sedge and so forth. If there was trouble, they would start poisoning the water. So, again, everything was built around water.
Who was responsible for the water? The Laguna people, well, the Laguna was considered the heart of the water, of the water body here. Everything went in and out of it both ways. Some people call it the liver or the filtering system. I think heart is a little nicer, but livers are good. Whatever you want to call it, it was a crucial body here. So, again, peace between people was dependent on each people taking care of their respective water place, because each of the waters was connected—were interconnected. It was crucial, because any poisoning went right to the water. So people were careful to do that.
The Sebastopol people along here were reputed to be very powerful poisoners. They had really potent medicine. They were known by the other people as powerful bear people. There were very powerful women bear cults along here. The women were known to have bear cults. They were known to go out and recruit. They would go out at night up to 200 miles around. They would watch the young woman around. They would appear as a regular person in the day, trading or whatever. They might go back at night and get one of the girls and take her back and start training her. They would take her to one of the caves around here. What they would do is they put the bear cape on at night and could travel great distances. Again, later, these bear cults were seen as evil. The Christians came and said that the bears were evil. They said the bears could kill people or poison people. Yes you could use them on your enemies. But more likely, they could locate food at long distances. They could smell like the bear. They could tell you where berries were growing. They could lead the people to food. And the stories go, they would pack the food back at night. So, if you lived over here, and you found a sack of oysters next to your door in the morning, they would say—“Oh, someone who is a bear is taking care of me.” They could go far distances. And there are many stories that “I found some clams, and she wasn’t home at night,” or “he wasn’t home at night,” and that sort of thing. The people here were known for that. In fact, the last two people that I know of, and again, there are many stories in many families, the last two people that I know of that were human bears were two women from Sebastopol. I am not going to mention any names because I don’t want to get in trouble. But that is what I heard.
Sebastopol had a horrible thing happen to it, folks. This lagoon was kept healthy principally because of three deep lakes. It was translated as “Diamond Lakes” because the water was so clear, deep, and cold. I don’t know that we had a word for diamond, but it was shaped and a reflective lake. One of the first things the Americans did, well, not one of the first things, but one of the early things they did was they bombed the lakes. They bombed the lakes here and filled them in. That immediately changed the ecology of the water, because you needed the depth to oxygenate the water. So it affected the life. They drained those lakes, bombed them, dynamited them, so they could have farmland. So Gaye LeBaron wrote some papers about this. The early Sebastopol settlers in the early part of the century for about 35 years poured raw sewage into the lagoon. So there was feces floating around. And if you can imagine the insult to the people seeing this most sacred of places treated like this. I have heard some of the old folks say, in not as eloquent language as mine — “You can see who these people are that do this. It tells you lot about them.” But again, we continued on.
Today in the tribe, we have many people who are direct descendants.
There were again 3,000 to 5,000 around Sebastopol as a conservative estimate. Today in our tribe, those members are descendants of six known survivors. Yes, six. And I would like them to stand up now. Would the members please stand up, the descendants of these people? [Applause] Their ancestry goes back, and I could tell stories. I’m not sure that I could or should, but there are incredible stories of survival. Of people here in our room, who are the offspring of children of a rancher, and of an Indian woman who was kept as a concubine. Most of us, our family, most of us are descendants of women, who in addition to being the most remarkable of people, compromised in remarkable ways so that we could go on. And it is that which drives us on today, so that we can continue as a people.
What did we learn from all of this? What kinds of things did we learn? First of all, I think there is an interesting model here. A model that the California Indians had in general, and that we had specifically. That is, regardless of differences, we must be defined by our locale. Not defined by our individual differences, but we are defined by the locale in which we live. We must find ways to work together. The model is here. Cultural diversity, linguistic diversity, I laugh at all of this stuff going on about the immigrants. It is so funny to see people who have been here 100-200 years quibbling about people who have been here two years or two months. When you have people who have been here 10,000 years. Get over it!
Again, the question is—“How do we all come home?” The Indian here is no different nowadays from the rest of you. We have become homeless from our place. And homeless people have populated here. It started 3000 years ago by wandering people in the desert who were promised a home and they were chosen. And that pattern kept going and going—I was owed something and my home is up there. It is time, again, for us to start thinking about finding a home here and to start taking care of it. Again, that is what I think we need to do. We need to start to appreciate and understand the past. In the past was a proud model, a beautiful model, that there are so many amongst us today that have survived. Many of the women who stood up have large families who aren’t here today. The men have large families who aren’t here tonight.
In our tribe, the Indians of the Graton Rancheria, the entire region at the time of contact, there were 20,000-30,000 of us. Today, the Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo of the Graton Rancheria are descendants of 14 known survivors. Yes, it is an interesting thing in America. We can say we got rid of slavery, never mind the legacy of slavery. We can say the immigrants chose to come here. But the Indian is the prick in the American conscience. Because you have a hard time wiping away what happened here. When I go to Germany, it is amazing. They know more about the culture and history here than we do. We know all about what happened to the Jews, but that is what the Germans did. That was over there. Per capita, this was a much greater butchering than there. But again, it is not to feel guilty, but to learn. And how can we come together? And how can we change paradigms related to them and us, and to place. That is the question.
Thank you everybody. And I will take questions at this point. Thank you. (Applause).
Q: How many are presently in your tribe?
A: In our tribe, there are a little over 1200 enrolled members. But many of our family members, I am related to many people, are from different places and we all have relatives in different places. Because people spread out and went around to different places. So there may be more than 14 of the Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo who survived, but the people present in 1923 all trace their ancestry to 14 surviving people. So, many who survived may have enrolled in other places, or married into other places. And they may be on other rolls on other Rancherias around here. I know when I look around the room here, a lot of us have relatives in Dry Creek, Kashaya, Alexander Valley, Wappo, so there are others around. But they are relatives of ours, and they may be a part of the 14. And there may be some besides those 14 that we lost track of, and they went north. Like I said, there was quite an exodus from the Spaniards and Mexicans of people fleeing north. Many people here, for instance, between 1812 and 1842 ran to Fort Ross. Many, many people, because the Russians didn’t enslave them like the Mexicans. They pretty much let them live their own lifestyle. They weren’t interested in converting them. The Russian Orthodox weren’t interested in converting. Now they did, interestingly enough, keep the women as concubines. But the women created an interesting system. While they were concubines and had soldiers for the Russians and Aleuts and others, they also had husbands up North. So, they were able to negotiate both worlds for survival. The women were remarkable. Many of the women, including my great-great grandmother, and Tooch’s, and others ran away. My great-great grandmother, named Tsupu, was from Petaluma originally and she was captured by Vallejo and taken to the Fort. She escaped at 14 and walked all the way up to Fort Ross. She first married a guy named Comtechal up there, and that was Tom Smith’s father. But he was what they called a Creole—Kashaya Pomo, Aleut, and Russian. She had 3 or 4 children from him. Then when the Russians abandoned the Fort, she went down and became the maid/mistress for Captain Steven Smith who settled Bodega Bay. And she had a whole bunch of kids from him. Gene who is here, came from there. So around here, we all trace ourselves back to one woman, Tsupu, and then the question is, from which of her two husbands? Smith or Comtechal? Just which man? It is biblical— Comtechal or Captain Steven Smith. But she died, she spoke five languages—Russian, Spanish, English, Miwok, and at least a couple of Pomo languages. My math isn’t so good. It was incredible. Imagine the lives she lived, the periods she lived through. For all of us.
A: Everybody says, “What are the theories of migration?” Well, we don’t do migration. You can look at your science all you want, but that doesn’t work. There is plenty of evidence to show we were here prior to the last Pliocene Era. I’ll tell you a story. People always say, “Did your people come down the Bering Strait?” I say, “No, but I have my bearings straight.” Now, at Kashaya there is a story about the whale and the creek in the Gualala River. You all know where the Gualala River is, right? And Robert Oswald, the great linguist from Berkeley, was working with the Kashaya people recording the language in between 1956 and 1962. And Essie Parrish and Herman James and others were informing him. And he divided everything into myths and everyday occurrences. And one of the myths is about the “whale in the creek.” And the story goes that when the waters rose up, a whale came into the inland bay of the Gualala River. He classified that as a myth. Interestingly enough, in 1964, a few years later, a group of geologists came up and were working there and they found whale fossils that dated to the same period! So, they got very curious since there was a so-called story that the Indians up there had. And the story is that when the waters rose, we went to live in the caves near St. Helena, in the various caves around here. They went and carbon dated charcoal and smoke from the cave walls, and they date it to the same period. Now, as I tell my students, if that is a myth, then you bring me a piece of Noah’s Ark.
So, I don’t know. There are various theories. One of the theories is that folks have been here and in South America way before the last Pliocene, way before they could have crossed the Bering Straits. Probably it is a combination of things. Some people were here, some people crossed the Bering Straits and mixed. Who knows? I don’t know, I wasn’t there. As someone wrote to me recently about fires. They said, “Aren’t you really missing sitting around the fires on cold nights and listening to stories?” I say, “I know I look old, but I really wasn’t around back then.”
I don’t mean to be flippant, but we believe that we came up from the land, and not to it.
Q: I have often wondered, if way back, the numbers would have been less at some point. The balance would have been different. I wonder what practices and courtesies would have allowed the population to not have gotten too big? You touched on it a little bit. Birth control might be one thing…
A: Well, there were methods of birth control. There were certainly methods of birth control. But I also described a cult system, a religious system that by its very nature didn’t allow for a lot of population growth. It kept the eating of meat down. Kept eating larger animals down. How did this come about? I don’t know, I’m not a scientist, and frankly, I’m not interested. What I do know is that the result was a system that was sustainable. What is interesting too, on that note, is that if you have Penutian languages here, and you say that these people are more recent, so there isn’t as much diversity in their language as there is among the Pomo. Well, it is interesting, because everybody who came to this landscape, speaking all of these different language families, obviously came at different times, adapted to a culture that was similar. They had the same cults and everything else. The only difference in the end was the language. The landscape and the place dictated the way to be. All the people became, the Miwok like the Pomo who seem to have been here earlier, became good basket weavers or whatever, throughout this area.
A: There are many stories about the fish migrations. And the singers would sing, and the dreamers would dream. This whole notion of a chief and all of this war stuff — that is all western stuff. The dreamers, and the people who had the relationship with the salmon, for instance, would dream and they would tell the chief. By the way, the Coast Miwok, 4 women in the village picked and trained the chief. He had to work for 6-7 years with the women to learn the proper elocution to lead the people. [From the audience, “Some things never change!]. Yes, one of my aunts said it. She was at Stanford. Someone asked her, “Is it true that the women follow behind the men? “ She said, “Yes, and they tell them—‘Go left, go right, go straight ahead.’”
Let me answer your question. The dreamer would say, “The fish are coming.” Then when they came, you had to be prepared because it was so overwhelming. The creeks and the rivers were so full that you could walk across the backs of the fish. And you had to get out of the river. The other animals had to back off. They were so thick and fast that they could drown you. So you had to back off. I’m old enough to remember Santa Rosa Creek at 4th Street and Farmer’s lane, there used to be tons of steelhead and salmon there. We used to fish there. This place even in my time has changed radically. And I don’t want to get political, and Sandy says I shouldn’t. You people have a big problem with grapes. I have to say “we people” because I am here too. We have a big problem with grapes. [applause]. They’ve been talking about my people’s business, but there is a smokescreen here for things to do with water, and fish. We need to work together and do what we can. Money talks, unfortunately, and tourism—it is all the same thing. These fish, if the water isn’t healthy, we’re not. Particularly women, lung cancer, of all things. Cancers are affecting women in high percentages now. It wasn’t like that when I was growing up. Tooch and Gene, when we were growing up, those kinds of problems weren’t here. We would take an inner tube and go down the Russian River. You could swim there, and you could see the fish. I hate to say it, it is a sacred place. No disrespect to the water, which I love, but it has become a sewer. The fish are sick. Again, the important thing about the fish, they were crucial to who and what we were. When those fish came, we worked like sailors. We would dry the fish and eat them all year. Now this is ethnographers talking, not just me. The average work day for the Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo back then, stretched out over a year—45 minutes. (laughter). When the acorns fell or we had to get fish, we worked long hours. Mabel McKay, a Pomo from Lake County, I asked her, “well, what did the people do?” I loved her answer. “We wove baskets and thought about God.” Art and philosophy. Sounds good to me. And again as Essie Parrish, a great Kashaya Pomo used to say, “They call us ‘dumb.’ Let’s talk for a little while, then tell me about ‘dumb.’”
Q: (barely audible) —about the secret societies.
A: I wrote a paper recently about the secret societies, it is coming out in a book. The secret societies are crucial, because one of the things the secret society did is it heightened awareness about everything around you. Let me give you an example. In these areas, there were huge mounds of shells piled all around. One of the things the early farmers did was to plow them all in and they became fertilizer for the earth, the orchards and things like that. There was quite a bit left out by Bodega Bay, but as Gene and Tooch can tell you, they got raided pretty heavily during their time and their mother’s time. By grave robbers and so forth. There is a fascinating thing about Indians. Other people want our graves and our babies, they just don’t want us. We grow up to be monsters.
The child welfare act that was passed in 1974 . . . until that, 25% of Indian children were being adopted out, mostly against their parents’ will. And, again, somehow it is okay to learn things from Indian graves. But this is sacred to us, you don’t disturb the dead. In fact, we mostly cremated here. If you found a whole skeleton, it was usually somebody who had been murdered or something. Potent poisoners would go after skeletons and use them. But they knew what they were doing. I’m not sure the archaeologists do.
Q: (Tooch Colombo, a Coast Miwok elder, speaking here) My grandmother was a Coast Miwok. Grace was well known. She was a grave robber and had lots of Indian artifacts. My grandmother finally told her, “If you don’t stop it, I’m going to Sebastopol and dig your family up.” It stopped after that.
A: I’ll tell you something. Any of you who have lived here for awhile, there are arrowheads everywhere, since there were Indians everywhere. Now Green Valley and other areas above Occidental, in the redwoods, there were periods after contact where there were new villages or hiding places where certain people or villages would go hide in the redwoods and only burn smoke at night. Those communities, some of them lasted for awhile. One up off of Joy Road, near Freestone, Tsupu, one of our relatives, lived up there up between being with Comtechal and Captain Steven Smith. So, there were temporary places. I don’t know if that is the answer, but there were temporary settlements. Now remember that the redwoods went down so fast. If you try to imagine a landscape in which this bible was burned, this text of ours. When the water table dropped 200 feet. You know all of these seasonal creeks here with the dry rocks? They used to run year round. That was all water — water everywhere. Five thousand years ago, there was a big earthquake that changed the course of the Russian river. After the big earthquake, there was a change. But even after that, this whole Santa Rosa plain was under water. All under water. I looked at the maps at Sonoma State University, and they talk about temporary villages and permanent villages. And they have all of the permanent villages down in the valley. They have it all wrong. The permanent villages were high. We crossed and moved about during the summer, because we could.
Q: So the villages were on the west side.
A: (pointing to map). Yes, these were complete nations, and another here. And then another here. Laurie, my assistant, put one here. These were nations. And these were only the ones spoken of in the 20th century, after 90-95% of the population was already gone. From memory. It was miraculous that there were elders here who remembered. Why the west side? Higher land, higher hills. What is on this east side? Flat land.
Q: Do you know where the place that got filled in was?
A: Yes. The place is just south of here [the Sebastopol Community Center]. It is just south of here. Half a mile south on down here [looking at map]. Now it is all flat and farmland. That is why they bombed it. And it really affected the fish. They had to go through here to get up to Sonoma Mountain, and out there. So when you start messing this up, you make travel for the great groups of fish difficult.
Q: I just wanted to thank you for honoring the women who had to be concubines and be strong, and had to produce.
A: Well, I have to. The important thing to know, to go back in history, there was no such thing as rape here. Again, if you go back and realize that power wasn’t based on physical force, you wouldn’t dare harm a woman. In fact, women were generally considered better cult members than men. Very, very strong. During the period where we were taken over, it was the women and their strength. We have to remember time and time again… my mother used to say, she has passed away and she was non-Indian, she used to say that the most difficult thing for a woman is to lose a child. And think how many children these women saw that were stolen, taken, died, and they persevered. That is incredible. Again, these women who were so in touch with who and what we are. And passed it down in the midst of horror. I mean what strength these women had. We have to honor them. Everything I know is from women. The men, some of the roles were compromised in many ways. Whatever I have learned, Mabel McKay, she only had a second grade education. But she had more wisdom in her little finger than all of the professors at Stanford. Nettie Smith was my great grandmother. She was a businesswoman, but that was another story. But look at these women. Mabel McKay, Essie Parrish. Mabel has baskets all over the Smithsonian. How many artists here, and I’m a writer, would love to have just one thing at the Smithsonian? The entire time the Smithsonian was taking her baskets and honoring them, she worked in the cannery here for twenty years so she could get a pension. She stood on her feet for twenty years peeling apples because she would not compromise her art. Her basketry came through her dreams. You could order a basket from her. She would put your name in a book. Then she would run her hand over your name at night before going to bed. If she didn’t have a dream that night, you didn’t get your basket. And the basket had to do with healing and who you were. She couldn’t be compromised. Again, I look at her and the things she did. She would work in the cannery 8 hours a day, go home and weave baskets for 3 hours, then drive over to Sacramento to heal the sick at night. She was an Indian doctor. Essie Parrish, a great woman, had fifteen children that lived, led the Kashaya Pomo tribe, wove baskets, did all the costumes, did everything, could play 7 musical instruments, again on a second grade education. I would say to her, “how do you do it?’ She would say, “Ain’t no such a word as ‘can’t.’” We complain about being tired. Mabel wasn’t impressed by the ‘self.’ She said she didn’t want to be an Indian Doctor. She wanted to drink wine and chase boys around the train station like the other girls. That is the difference. You see so many young people running around today with the feathers and things like that. Mabel was told by the spirits, “you do this or I kill you.” You don’t have any choice. You had to train and it was a very hard life. I wouldn’t want to do that, but then I’m not strong enough. Incredible, these people, against all odds.
Q: I travelled to Australia. I noticed the parallels between the history here and that of the aboriginal people of Australia. Have you done any studies?
A: I haven’t done any studies, but it was a very similar situation. The butchering, they suffered the same kinds of problems that we are suffering. While they say there is no such thing as Indians here, if you look at the statistics as a group, we are in pretty dire state. Until recently, in California, 80% of our kids were dropping out by the 9th grade. 8-9% graduate from high school. Life expectancy for a California Indian male is 47 years. For a woman, 56. You look at those statistics among the aborigines in Australia, and they are the same. I support them whole-heartedly. When I look at the news and their environmental problems, they better look back to those aborigines and learn from them, and fast. They have burning there, but it isn’t controlled.
Q: Comment and a question. I think that it is possible. Can you give us a translation of that little village on the map.
A: I forget what Batik (sp) means, but it is a plant. Remember that these are bastardizations based on what the ethnographers heard. I forget, I’m sorry. I heard it is “where elderberries grow.” I am not a very good Pomo speaker. When I would try, they would say, “You speak it like a white man.” I would say, “As a teacher, it is good to be encouraging.” Another wonderful thing, I want to brag a bit. The last known speaker of Coast Miwok, Gene’s grandmother, passed away in 1978. We have a language revitalization, and we are having conversations in Coast Miwok in our office. I am really proud about that, the language is coming back. Most of these things have a noun in front of it. Some of the Pomo names for our villages—they might translate it into their language. You might get mixed up names through the ethnographers, depending on who they were asking.
Q: How much trade was going on with Napa County?: :
A: A lot of trade was going on. Certain areas had lots of things. Flint, people would mine certain types of rocks and trade in the summer. We were very respectful of territories, though. You didn’t go take the trees over there, because you didn’t know what songs the trees would have. Those people who take care of those trees knew those songs. You were very cautious about what you did. To expand, something phenomenal was happening. You know, we got involved with Tolay Lake out by Petaluma. And the lake was drained. They found more charm stones at the bed of that lake than anywhere else in the new world. And they found rock from Missouri, and as far away as Canada. And it corroborated stories we had heard that it was sort of like a medical center. Indian doctors would come from all over and trade. So they were moving all around. They were trading things back and forth. I’m not going to say they were walking all that way. The Russian blue beads, the trading beads that the Russians had. These were found all the way to the Mississippi. There was trading all along, back and forth. A complicated trade route. Also, intercultural things. For example, the cults I spoke about. It wasn’t just marrying people from another village. You might be involved in a cult that had women from several villages. You women might get together at night, and you might take care of all of the territories together. We had moieties. If you had a land name and a water name, we would stay interrelated.
© Greg Sarris 2010
All Rights Reserved