“This is what hope looks like” – Natives take part in cultural revival on the ancestral lands of Richardson’s Grove State Park

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[All photos by Lauren Schmitt]

On July 16, Perry Lincoln’s twenty-year dream came true in Richardson’s Grove State Park, south of Garberville. Lincoln, Director and Founder of Native Health in Native Hands, called on Native people from the Yurok, Wailaki and Wiyot tribes to bring his dream of cultural renewal to life.

Lincoln and his granddaughter Star welcomed natives and non-natives by carving two canoes from redwood logs donated by the park. Traditionally, the native tribes of the region have relied on canoes for transportation, access to food, and as an integral part of their ceremonies. Many cultural practices were lost when natives were forced to colonize, but Lincoln is dedicated to reviving cultural practices for future generations.

He enlisted a master canoe builder, Bob McConnell of the Yurok Tribe, to share his knowledge with the Wailaki and Wiyot who gathered on this momentous occasion. Historically, the Wailaki and Yurok people traded canoes, a practice that felt honored as the elders exchanged their cultural knowledge with those present, especially the youth.

“It’s great to see the young people working on the boats,” McConnell said.

a person standing next to machinery looking at the cameraLincoln also noted the importance of imparting cultural knowledge to young people, saying, “Our young people will remember that time as the history we are writing now.”

Young and old worked side by side to carve the canoes out of the large redwood logs, using both modern and traditional techniques.

Wiyot President Ted Hernandez said, “[We’re] see culture come alive; he wasn’t dead, he was sleeping, and now we’re waking him up. It’s gonna keep on staying awake now ’cause we got all these young [people] who want to revitalize the culture and traditions of both tribes.

There was significance in working with the state park as well as it resides on ancestral land that was once a Wailaki village. With a past that did not include Indigenous peoples or traditions, the parks are actively trying to mend those relationships. State Park District Assistant Superintendent Erin Gates said, “[It’s an] an incredible honor and an opportunity to have [ancestral] lands being used again for cultural practices after decades of not happening… in part [because] we didn’t make room for that to happen.

canoe with carved redwood stern seatWith this latest event, there is momentum behind Lincoln’s dream, a dream he says he shares with many. “I think it’s a very good time for the dream, not just of our people, but of a lot of people…People can come together with the same thought and the same energy, so it turns into something really strong thing, like today,” the Wailaki elder said.

Two men standing next to a canoe covered with a tarpErin echoed Lincoln’s sentiments, “…I think there’s something that’s happened over the last two and a half years that has been a shift, where we’re all ready to recognize that the things didn’t work before.” Erin expressed a collective desire to embrace a collaborative relationship with the indigenous tribes: “We are ready to move forward to find new ways of doing things and I hope to see what happens in the parks of state to expand throughout California so that tribal communities can see their state parks as neighbors and friends and places to practice cultural traditions.

Although Hernandaz said, “It’s been a great partnership, … I see our parks in the area, they know the history, they know the trauma and they want to help heal,” he acknowledges that “healing will take time.” .

Many traditions were lost when native tribes were massacred, survivors sent to camps or placed on reservations; many, like the Wailaki, have no land of their own. The majority of the local natives were placed on the Hoopa or Round Valley reservations along with many other local tribes.

traditional aboriginal canoe on flatbed trailer to get to the next placeDuring the process of colonization, the teaching of cultural uses was often set aside, even the language. McConnell said that in his youth, native people were alienated from their culture by the mainstream culture, even to the point that he never heard his grandmother speak anything other than English. It was only much later that he learned that his grandmother, like many of his generation, spoke several languages, an unpassed gift.

Without blame or anger for the past, McConnell is happy to see cultural revival happening today firsthand. Noting that a youth was tapping and singing on one of the canoes, McConnell told KMUD News Director Lauren Schmitt that aside from the physical sculpting of the canoes, the spiritual aspect created in the process was at the heart of the tradition that he was happy to see pass. down. “This is what hope looks like,” he said.

pieces of salmon on sticks over a bed of ash and coalThe group held a ceremony above the canoes as they prepared to embark on their next journey north where the carving will continue before being launched into Humboldt Bay with participation from both communities. During the ceremony, Lincoln’s granddaughter, Star, helped prepare the salmon the traditional way, cooked on skewers over a charcoal pit, acknowledging the importance of food in the ceremony.

The youngster plays an active role in Native Health and Native Hands, as she works alongside her grandfather to bring cultural traditions back to people who have lost so much. “A lot of people are stepping in and wanting to support our movement,” she said, encouraging people, indigenous and non-indigenous, to join the effort.

Like Star, many talked about collaboration, inclusion, celebrating diversity. Lincoln’s dream, the dream of many, is coming to fruition with a shared desire to heal the past with an eye to the future.

A Wailaki language specialist spoke of the need for collaboration, sharing a memory of his grandmother,

“Our grandmother, who is a traditional person, prayed for her family. Later, she prayed for her tribe. Later, she prayed for all Indians. And in the last ten years of her life, she prayed for everybody because… everybody walks on this earth. …So she prayed for everyone.

To note: This article was written using audio interviews conducted by KMUD News Director Lauren Schmitt. To hear Lauren’s interviews with those involved in the canoe building process, tune in to KMUD News at 6 p.m. July 26, or watch it in the archive at kmud.org.

This article is written by Lisa Music, a local freelance journalist. To reach Lisa with advice, questions or comments, email her at [email protected]

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