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‘Calling Back the Salmon’

NEVADA CITY, Calif. – An ancient Maidu riverside ceremony called “Calling Back the Salmon” was part of Nevada City’s Indigenous Peoples’ Days observances. Due to a depletion of the salmon population, West Coast salmon fishing has been all but terminated for this season.

The three-day celebration, hosted by the Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe, takes place every year around Columbus Day. This year’s event began Oct. 10 with the dedication of a grinding rock on a small piece of land donated to the Tsi-Akim Maidu. Before the Gold Rush, a Maidu Village sat near the banks of Deer Creek in what is now downtown Nevada City.

At the ceremony, children pulled back a blanket to reveal the grinding rock.

“The acorn, ground on rocks like this, was the main staple for Indian people for hundreds of years,” said Don Ryberg, tribal chairman. “For the grinding holes to become this deep, generations upon generations used this rock. The acorns, once ground and leached, were used to make everything from soup to bread. Untold generations are symbolized by this rock.

“Maidu people believe that everything is living, even the rocks. All grinding rocks are so valuable and sacred because these rocks have heard the prayers, the songs, as well as felt blood from people’s hands caused by the grinding, inside these holes. This makes the rock powerful.”

When the California Gold Rush turned northern California into a destination for thousands of gold-seekers, lured from around the world by dreams of wealth, the Native population was decimated.

Photo courtesy Terry Pittsford American Indian paintings and a mural set the theme inside Chapa-De’s new clinic.

The so-called ’49ers brought alcohol, disease and greed to the people they found in California. Living in the interior, where Spanish explorers had scarcely touched, the Natives found themselves invaded by prospectors who covered every canyon and crevice in their search for gold.

In a year, the region’s indigenous peoples were outnumbered. Game was slaughtered and the clear streams became choked with mining debris.

One early prospector described it like this: “The poor aborigines were abandoned to the mercy of a number of semi-barbarous white men, and died and were killed off with frightful rapidity.”

Today the remnants of the local tribes gather here on Columbus Day weekend, which they have renamed Indigenous Peoples’ Days, to celebrate their heritage. Each year for the past nine years, members of the Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe invite people to come together to heal the wounds of the past and celebrate indigenous culture.

This year, the grinding rock dedication was followed the next morning by a sunrise ceremony on the banks of the South Yuba River. Spirit Runners carried a speared salmon upstream to where a tribal elder performed the traditional renewal ceremony, followed by a feast of wild salmon.

 New Native health care facility opens
Chapa-De, a northern California Indian health care program, opened its new 29,000-square-foot clinic in Grass Valley as part of the area’s annual Indigenous Peoples’ Days observances. Eight circular portions of the new facility contain space for medical services, women’s health care, a dental department, behavioral health and acupuncture. The round design is believed to create healing energy. Its front doors face east to draw in healing power. The new building’s rooms are adorned with Native art. The $12 million clinic building was financed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and by Umpqua Bank. Each provided $6 million toward the building’s construction cost, according to Carol Irvin, Chapa-De’s director. “We will be paying both those lenders back over the next 30 years,” she said. A staff of between 20 and 25, including four full-time doctors and two dentists, will be employed there. The facility joins already existing clinics in nearby Auburn and Woodland. Its three-day grand opening began Oct. 10, during Indigenous Peoples’ Days, with appetizers and music for the public. A welcoming and blessing began a day of Native music, barbecue and building tours Oct. 11. The following day, visitors were served Indian tacos prepared by the Colfax-Todds Valley Consolidated Tribe and entertained by Maidu dancers, storytellers and singers. Chapa-De is a nonprofit organization providing medical, dental and behavioral health services to American Indians in the four northern California counties of Placer, Nevada, Sierra and Yolo since 1976. “Chapa-De has come to be one of leading Indian health programs in the state, seeing a lot of needy patients,” Irvin said. Services provided by Chapa-De include prenatal care, infant and well child checkups, child and adult immunizations, tuberculosis testing, Pap smears, breast exams, family planning, HIV testing, vision, hearing screenings and lab tests.

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Sunday was a day of dancing, drumming, food and healing at the Maidu Active Cultural Center. Members of the public were invited into a traditional bark house, located where a Maidu village once stood. The Feather River Singers performed and Paiute Dancers offered songs of the Ghost Dance.

Activities Oct. 12, the last day of the celebration, were centered at Miners Foundry, a cultural center located in a building that once made metal fittings for the underground gold mines in the area.

The morning focused on children’s activities such as storytelling, traditional singing, and drumming.

Afternoon sessions included panel discussions of such topics as “Mercury in Our Water, Our Land and Our Bodies,” “Healing Soul Wounds” of the Gold Rush and “Saving Culture and Language.” Drumming and songs by the Feather River Singers interspersed each panel.

Indigenous Peoples’ Days concluded with a dinner of wild elk, wild salmon and buffalo stew at the Foundry. The feast, the Richard Prout Memorial Dinner, is named for the late chair of the Colfax-Todds Valley Consolidated Tribe.