You may be wondering, “What is Indian Country?” Well, take a look around you. You live in the heart of Indian Country. When I hear the term “Indian Country,” I think of the land. I think of Native American traditions and the vast amount of Native people coming together to preserve our culture. Lastly, I think of all the ways we keep Native American traditions alive.
There are 5 tribes federally recognized in Sonoma County:
- Dry Creek Rancheria
- Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria
- Lytton Rancheria
- Cloverdale Rancheria
- Kashia Band of Pomo Indians
There are also tribes in surrounding Lake County and Mendocino County, such as Elem Indian Colony, Manchester Point Arena, and Middletown Rancheria to name a few.
Usually when people think of Native Americans, they think of the casinos that tribes own, more commonly known as Indian Casinos. As a matter of fact, our people are so much more than these enterprises. So much work and collaboration go into keeping Native American traditions and culture alive.
Keeping Native American Traditions Alive
Basket Weaving, Drum Making, and Beading
To preserve culture, some tribes (like Dry Creek Rancheria) have basket weaving classes. Additionally, others bead beautiful traditional regalia, earrings, and necklaces. Drums are used to heal through song and dance. To make a drum, whoever collects the materials (wood, hide) must bless the wood, the animal, and the drum itself after it’s made. The spirit you put into making the drum will be output while playing the drum.
Throughout the year, we have gatherings that we call a Big Time. A Big Time is a celebration of Native American culture. It’s an opportunity to strengthen Native communities, meet elders and Tribal leaders, and network with people in our community. There are various vendors there with homemade pies, Indian Tacos, regalia, and drums. We gather to pray, sing, and dance. Usually, these gatherings are on sovereign land, but sometimes a college will host them as well.
GONA – Gathering Of Native Americans
A GONA is a four-day journey that focuses on strengthening the Native youth and community. I have had the privilege of attending one of these gatherings. I left there with my heart feeling whole, as well as feeling at one with everyone else participating at the GONA. The facilitators do a fantastic job of creating a safe place for all involved. Each GONA includes a lot of talking in circles, group work, and building one another up. Words cannot express how worthy I felt just to be me!
Some tribes offer language classes to teach their Native dialect. Additionally, if there’s not an in-person class, apps that are being developed to teach our language as well.
There is a facility in Arcata, CA called United Indian Health Services. Here, you have the option to use Western medicine or you can choose to see a traditional “Medicine Man”. He or she will use ancient healing techniques to cure your ailment. The Navajo Nation also provides the same service to Native Americans.
California Indian Day
California Indian Day is celebrated on the fourth Friday of every September. Most businesses are starting to recognize this day in lieu of Columbus Day. While Columbus did sail the ocean blue to this land, our schools do not educate children on what happened to the Native people that were already occupying this land. Additionally, most Native American organizations close their business doors in observance of this day. I also know many families who keep their children home from school on this day.
The acronym stands for Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. In short, any organizations that receive federal funding that possess Native American artifacts are required to return those artifacts to said tribe. There are NAGPRA officers of tribes whose sole purpose is to find and collect these artifacts that have been stolen. Sometimes when an artifact is repatriated, it is reburied in a secret sacred site. Tribes also have a Tribal Preservation Heritage Officer (THPO). They are officers appointed by a federally recognized tribe. They develop programs and activities with respect in preserving Tribal lands.
These are just some of the ways that Native American traditions are being kept alive. What are some ways you keep your culture and traditions alive?