Greg Sarris has been involved in a number of creative projects from many different disciplines. Use the links below to navigate to the section you wish to view.
The Last Woman from Petaluma
Her Indian name, or at least one of her Indian names, the only one any of us know, was Tsupu. She was my great-great-grandfather’s mother, or my great-great-great grandmother, and, again as far as any of us know, the last native of Petaluma, not the city we know today, but the ancient Coast Miwok village of the same name. Certainly, she was the last to pass down any memory of the place. She was quite young, perhaps fourteen, when she left, beginning what would become a chaotic, wholly incredible journey to find and keep a home in and about Sonoma County.
Her name was Maria, which was what the priest at St. Rose Church called all of the Indian girls, even this girl Maria Evangeliste, who ironed his vestments and each Sunday played the violin so beautifully as the communicants marched to the altar to receive the sacraments that Jesus was said to smile down from the rafters at the dispensation of his body and blood.
His name was Mr. Cortese, and with the way he peeked around the corner of the old barn when we went to see him, only his small dark face visible, his very long fingers clasped to the sideboards, he made us think of a lizard, or at least he made me think of a lizard, and now, many years later, I am there once more, seeing him for the first time.
Three days after the Indian — I’ll call him Fidel — avenged the assault on his wife and slayed the young rancher who’d committed the horrible deed, the posse of vigilantes pursuing him found him, not near the small settlement of Marshall, but across Tomales Bay on a ridge; and not in a thicket of coyote brush and low-growing fir where he might’ve hidden, but in the middle of an open grassland.
On Sacred Places
Tom Smith. A simple name. Not so the man. My great-great-grand-father. Father and grandfather and great-grandfather to many Coast Miwok and Pomo people. I’ve told stories about him, stories I have heard, stories others tell: how he performed miracles healing the sick and built the last traditional Coast Miwok roundhouse on the point at Jenner, above the mouth of the Russian River, and orchestrated time immemorial Coast Miwok ceremonies there; how he charmed women with songs gathered like abalone from special rocks under the waters of Bodega Bay.
Not ancient stories about the time, before this one, when the animals were still people, before Coyote messed things up with his hapless machinations. Nor the dark room, warm but still black as the cold, mid-winter night outside, with nothing but the floating voice of the story teller impersonating the people in the stories…
Something about the glare of noon. Or nearabouts noon because summertime that hour feels like eternity, the essence of the season itself, halfway between here and there, stopped. Something about the stillness of light, and the motionless surface of the green river. On a dry path above the water even the orange-flowering monkey plant and sticky-leafed mountain balm appear to be waiting, as if for the sun to move again. Until an osprey breaks out of the sky, silver body and black-tipped wings, coursing the snaking path of the river.