In his recently published book, History of Us, Nisenan Tribe of Nevada County, Tribal Chairman Richard B. Johnson describes the indigenous lifestyle (before white men came to California) in a way that makes the heart long to experience it, feel the close family ties, and understand the intimate connections with the land.
He includes information about the religious and spiritual shamans, both males and females, highly valued for their special herbal knowledge. Native plant enthusiasts will appreciate the flora resources chapter.
Their homes, called “hu,” were round and semi-subterranean. The structures maintained even temperatures and were designed to allow for smoke release from the fireplace. Floors were covered with fine grasses and deer rugs. Hammocks were used for sleeping. The entrance was small, a crawl space. This was for heat conservation and protection from intruders.
With all the fires burning in California in recent years, I can’t help but think about how contemporary home replacement designs should follow these principles.
History of Us includes photos of tools that were crafted for hunting, fishing, and food storage as well as ceremonial regalia.
The Nisenan territory was vast. It included the Histum Yani (middle mountains of the Valley) or Esto Yamani that we call the Sutter Buttes all the way up to Soda Springs. Tribelete chiefs and headmen governed villages located up and down Deer Creek where natural resources were managed. Villages had communication and trading systems. At convention-style gatherings, art and culture were exchanged and inter-tribal treaties were made. This was where young people often found spouses.
Although every aspect of Nisenan life, past and present, is captivating, my favorite section of Johnson’s book is belief and tradition stories. Coyote trickery, the creation story, and the Huitals, one-legged people who live in caves, had my imagination working overtime.
As one would expect, reading about the brutality that the Nisenan People experienced during the Gold Rush is upsetting. It should be. Johnson’s detailed research and chronology of horrific news articles is commendable.
The latter part of the book details termination of the Rancheria’s tribal designation in 1964, citing legal documents, communication threads, and court cases. It lays out evidence the tribe is using to re-establish its federal recognition. This technical section was not as easy to follow as the first 75% of the book.
I can imagine the highs and lows that the author must have experienced while working on this remarkable labor of love. It’s a valuable gift for upcoming Nisenan generations, and a powerful tool that, I hope provides, the right information to the right people who can assist the tribe in reaching their goals.
To better understand historic trauma and what it must have been like to be removed from your home and placed in an Indian school, I did some research. The videos below are the best sources (at the time) that most clearly describe and explain the topics.
Univesity of Minnesota – What is historic Trauma?
Syracuse University – Intergenerational Trauma in Native Americans – “Healing The Past” – Dr. Jessic Corey
(Author is reading a research paper, fast. The information and photography are very good.
Hit pause and rewind, to absorb it all.)
Firehouse Museum, Nevada City – Nisenan People & Chinese history
Nevada City TV – Sentenial episode – Interview with Shelly Covert that includes discussion of Centennial dam
VICE.com [featuring beautiful photographs] – The California Tribe the Government Tried to Erase in the 60s – The Nisenan tribe of the California Central Valley are fighting to regain recognition from the federal government.