With November comes our annual days of harvest and gratitude. It is a time when many of us gather with family and friends to share food and company. The way the American culture has created and passed on the tradition of Thanksgiving has become increasingly scrutinized. Most of us learned about the history of this National Holiday in kindergarten, and those stories were repeated, with additional details, as the years passed. We made paper pilgrim hats and Indian headbands with paper feathers in kindergarten and wrote papers describing the peaceful meal shared by pilgrims and local tribes in elementary school. If we were lucky, we had teachers who later taught us the names of local tribes, but more often than not, indigenous Americans were not included with any meaningful depth or complexity in American History texts.
We now find ourselves in the 21st century and increasingly aware of the inadequacy of these earlier narratives, forced to confront the reality of the enormous hubris of the one culture subordinating a whole continent’s worth of existing cultures. The cure for ignorance is information. Tribal land acknowledgments are now intentionally spoken at public gatherings. The names of these peoples are slowly becoming more familiar to communities where they had previously been unseen and unheard.
One such narrative of the California Pomo people was written by Greg Sarris, Mable McKay: Weaving the Dream. Sarris met with Mable McKay, one of the last surviving members of the Long Valley Cache Creek Pomo tribe. She carried the stories of her lineage in both the art of basket weaving, medicine making, and the practice of two important seasonal celebrations, the Acorn Festival in the Fall, and the Strawberry Festival in the Spring. The Acorn harvest is still celebrated every Fall by many Native American Tribes here in California. Traditionally, families from widely scattered villages would come together to share the fruits of the harvest, exchange news, and supplies, and perform ceremonial dances. Although the arrival of colonizers cruelly disrupted the Native way of life and forced them to leave the land they had occupied for centuries, the Acorn Festival is still celebrated at various locations throughout California today. The best-known celebration is hosted at Grinding Rock State Park in Pine Grove, where an entire Miwok village, including acorn granaries, and ceremonial Roundhouse has been restored. Other California Indian tribes come to this event on the fourth weekend in September to perform traditional dances, play hand games, and engage in storytelling.
The tradition of acknowledging the bounty of Fall harvests has roots as far back as the emergence of hunter-gathering tribes. The cooler weather and shorter days still bring us inside, taking our meals in the comfort of our homes, and in the company of our family and friends. The impulse to express gratitude for our circumstances in this time, and in this place, continues.
We hope you enjoy this issue of RWC Paper Jam and the articles written about these Fall traditions, Native cultures, and more!
(articles listed below)
Sarris, Greg. “Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream,” UC Berkely Press, 2013.
Happy November everyone!