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Bronze seals commemorate Indian tribes

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. ? State officials unveiled two new bronze seals during a morning ceremony May 28 to commemorate California's American Indian and Hispanic heritage.

The two 600-pound seals were placed next to the larger California State seal on the front steps of the state capitol.

Robert Hertzberg, Speaker Emeritus of the California State Assembly, worked nearly four years to procure the seals. An avid history buff, Hertzberg wrote legislation in 1998 to honor the Indian and Hispanic populations of California in hopes of having a permanent monument on the state capitol grounds.

"We wanted a monument that honored the different periods of sovereign rule in California," said Hertzberg after the ceremony. "Forty-plus generations of Native American rule in this state should be commemorated."

After the traditional norte?o, or northern Mexican, music of Mariachi Los Gallos warmed up the crowd, which numbered in the hundreds. Hertzberg gave an ebullient speech recounting the four-year process making the seals a reality.

Santa Rosa Rancheria tribal member Clarence Atwell then took the stage and led the crowd in a traditional blessing. "Maybe one day we'll have one of us move into this building as a gift to the Native American people of California," he said with a grin, gesturing toward the capitol building.

Hertzberg then returned to the stage to acknowledge the Commemorative Seals Commission and the dignitaries in attendance, including Dr. Pascual Marteles-Lopez, the Consul General of Spain in San Francisco. Commemorative Commission Chairman Larry Myers, who works for the California Native American Heritage Commission, stressed the importance of the symbolism behind the seals.

"Every third grader that walks in the west entrance to their state capitol will now learn something about our Indian and Hispanic heritage," said Myers.

The California Indian seal, which sits to the left of the main state seal, is a collage of images culled from various aspects of the diverse California Indian cultures. The two most prominent are of a woman and a child in the center with a man in traditional Miwok garb to their left. Below is a smaller image of two people in a canoe. Other images ring the perimeter of the seal.

After a statewide search to find a designer for the seal, Luiseno artist Robert Freeman told the crowd that he was taken by surprise when he was selected.

"I'm just a typical artist. You know, goofing around with paint and stuff, when my wife kept insisting that I should submit my stuff for this job. I sent it in at the last minute right before we went away on vacation and when we got back I got a call telling me I was in on the deal," he said.

California Governor Gray Davis skipped the festivities and sent his Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Michael Flores, in his stead. Flores read a letter from Davis that praised the project and spoke of how the seals were representative of the state's heterogeneous makeup.

The ceremony concluded with remarks from State Librarian and Commemorative Commission member Dr. Kevin Starr. Traditional Maidu dancers concluded the ceremony.

Afterward, several reporters asked why the state did not also recognize several other historically significant ethnic groups in California, such as the Russians, Asians and African Americans. Starr replied that idea was to honor sovereign jurisdiction and not necessarily specific ethnic groups. He said that though the Russians had trading posts in the 1810s and 1820s located on the Sonoma County coast, near the northern boundary of Spanish settlement, they still leased their land from the Spanish and later Mexican governments and never claimed jurisdiction.

Though Spain had made claims on California as early as the 16th century, the establishment of the first mission at San Diego in 1769 is widely regarded as the beginning of the period of Spanish rule. California was then transferred to Mexico in the early 1820s after that country had gained independence.

English seafarer and pirate Sir Francis Drake landed on the Marin County coast as early as 1579, declaring the territory to be Nova Albion, or New England while bestowing on the bewildered Coast Miwoks the title of "subjects of the crown."

"But Drake and the English never came back, so they don't get a seal," said Starr with a laugh.

Nearby, Ira Hoaglen, co-owner of Wailaki's Indian Tacos and a Pomo tribal member, expressed pleasure at the ceremony but said the struggle of Indian people is far from over.

"I think these seals are pretty neat, but we should remember that struggle goes on for Indian people every single day, day in and day out. We still need to fight for about everything but we can win small victories like this with other Indians and our non-Indian friends."