By Eileen Majors
It was a wintery day in the middle of January, 2003 and the location was Westwood, a tiny town in the middle of the Maidu People’s ancient Homelands. It was to be an event calling all Maidu People interested in preserving their homelands. A flyer had been made and distributed by the four who organized the event they were calling the Mountain Maidu Homeland Summit. The subject of the meeting was to “discuss preservation and protection of the Mountain Maidu sacred places,” noting in particular a local mountain lake they call Cham Su Donim Pakanim.
The flyer stated, “All Maidu people who are interested are encouraged to attend.” The organizers of the event had been working on language classes together, in an effort to preserve the Mountain Maidu language when they decided it was time for action. Elder, Tommy Merino was teaching Farrell Cunningham, Allen Lowry and Marvena Harris their native language. (both Merino and Cunningham have since passed.) The four became outraged over issues with those who had power over their sacred lands. While they seemed to listen to Maidu concerns, they felt it had little to no effect on their actions. They all agreed it felt right to bring their people together to defend their sacred lands. Both Harris and Lowry are still dedicated to the cause of preserving Maidu Lands and that of saving their language.
As January 13, 2003 arrived, the four who organized the summit were skeptical and wondered who would show up on a winter day. It would soon be obvious that preserving Maidu lands was a concern deeply felt by their people far and wide. The room filled quickly with Maidu People from Susanville, Greenville, Indian Valley, Quincy, and Big Meadows (now known as Lake Almanor and other surrounding areas) the Maidu Summit Consortium was born. Groups participating at that time
included Big Meadows Maidu Historic Preservation, Greenville Indian Rancheria, Maidu Cultural and Development Group, Plumas County Indians, Inc., Roundhouse Council Indian Education Center, Stiver’s Indian Cemetery Assoc., Susanville Indian Rancheria, Tasmam Koyom Foundation, Tsiakim Maidu, and United Maidu Nation. They soon decided their voice would be stronger when they joined together and the Mountain Maidu Consortium was born.
Discussions at that first Summit centered on preserving Cham Su Donim Pakanim as their first and highest priority. This tiny mountain lake, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, has not only been sacred to their people for thousands of years, they call it the “Doctor’s Lake.” For in their culture, those who were called to be Medicine People would spend much time at the lake basking in prayer to the World Maker, the Creator. Sometimes they would go with another Medicine Person, but usually this journey was taken alone. It was a dangerous one but a sacred event where they “underwent a change,” as I was told. Only those who returned changed by the World Maker became Healers in their tribe.
In talking with Harris and Lowry I learned about many Maidu stories and local legends. I was told about a time when the World Maker passed through our region, making things better for the people. His venture left many local places touched, where Maidu legends abound, ones I wanted to hear much more about. They explained that they continue to show their children and grandchildren the many sacred places where he walked. From creating a delicious mountain spring by driving his staff into the ground to turning a lizard to stone, there are many legends and many places where he left his mark.
I was intrigued by it all and I must admit, somewhat outraged by how hard the battle has been in the past for a people seeking control over their sacred lands. I learned about the many tribes that inhabited Big Meadows before their lands would be flooded to create power and a dam that would make Lake Almanor. So many stories to tell and so little time to hear them all left us knowing it felt right to continue this column as a regular feature of MVL, so we can hear more about the Maidu traditions, the villages once inhabited, the legends passed down and the places touched in our area.
This year the Maidu Summit Consortium’s Annual Friends of Humbug Gathering will be held on July 21. This event is held in the Humbug Valley and the public is invited. Last year a potluck was served as well as a viewing of traditional arts performances. Guests of last year’s gathering also had the opportunity to take part in a raffle which included special and unique prizes. If you are interested in attending this event you should go to their website: www.maidusummit.org/events for more information. You can also contact Kenneth C. Holbrook at 530-258-2299 or at [email protected].