Pomo youth get taste of tribal traditions
Summer program aimed at preserving culture ends with meal of ancestral foods
By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
At a campground by a bend in the Russian River, Indian youths sampled a traditional Pomo meal Wednesday consisting of many of the same foods their tribal ancestors subsisted on for millennia.
Seaweed, bay nuts, manzanita berries and acorns were on the menu, along with salmon roasted on cedar skewers.
Byron Koss, a 17-year-old tribal member from Santa Rosa, tasted a roasted pepperwood nut, or “behe” in the Southern Pomo dialect.
“It tastes like coffee beans and a mixture of Golden Teddy Gra-hams,” he said.
Koss was among about two dozen members of the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo who participated in the summer youth program aimed at preserving their tribal culture.
The program, which includes gathering some of the food themselves, culminated with Wednesday’s lunch at the public campground that the tribe operates off Alexander Valley Road, a few miles from their River Rock Casino near Geyserville.
It’s not just about sampling the food, but learning Pomo words, especially those that identify what they eat.
“We’re trying to bring back to our youth the essence of who we are and let people know it isn’t something we used to do. It’s what we do,” said Clint McKay, 47, a cultural consultant for the tribe who lives in Forestville. “We’re still here, and we’re still doing it.”
McKay, who is a public works superintendent for the city of Santa Rosa, acknowledged the tribal traditions incorporate some modern ways of food preparation.
He was cooking the Sonoma Coast salmon over a wood fire, for example, but the skewers were balanced on bricks with the help of metal stakes.
“People talk about the old ways. What are those? Fifty, 100 years ago? Our ways are always evolving. We’ll never say we’ll do it the way we did it 1,000 years ago. When you get an innovative idea, you use it,” he said.
Instead of a sharp obsidian object, he used a modern kitchen knife to cut up the fish.
But the important thing, tribal members said, is to come together as a community, which happens with some of the time-consuming, labor-intensive methods of preparing the traditional foods.
“It’s who we are. Without language, without culture, we’re like everyone else,” said Tieraney Giron, cultural coordinator for the Dry Creek Rancheria.
The lunch included bay nuts rolled in maple syrup and cayenne pepper, as well some dipped in chocolate. Hot dogs and soft drinks also were available.
More native fare included Manzanita cider made by crushing berries, soaking them in a cheesecloth and straining the liquid through a colander.
The summer program was financed with a $20,000 grant from the Native Youth and Culture Fund of the First Nations Development Institute, a Colorado-based Indian economic development organization.
The money also will help pay for a Southern Pomo language app for smartphones that will allows users to scan a bar code on signs and get links to photos, audio recordings and videos about traditional plants and Pomo words.
“We don’t want the language to be seen like some historical curiosity — a language of the past with museum status,” said Alex Walker, a language instructor and doctoral candidate in linguistics who has taught a Southern Pomo language class in Santa Rosa for the past year.
“It means a lot to get to know where we come from,” said Nellie Lozinto, who will be a senior at Healdsburg High School. On top of that, she and her siblings “went home and taught my mom stuff.”
McKay said previous generations, including those of his parents and grandparents, had their traditions suppressed due to racist attitudes.
But the youth program, he said “gives our kids a sense of pride.”
“We’re trying to institute that back in them,” he said, with his 5-year-old granddaughter standing by his side.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.