The Big Time Festival at Kule Loklo: Celebrating the First Peoples of Point Reyes National Seashore and Beyond

This past weekend the National Park Service and Point Reyes National Seashore Association hosted the 38th annual Big Time Festival at Kule Loklo. This annual event celebrates the First People, the Coast Miwok, who once inhabited what is now known as Marin and Sonoma Counties. Kule Loklo – meaning “Valley of the Bear” – is a recreated interpretive village in Point Reyes National Seashore that’s maintained by tribal and non-tribal volunteers. This park-made village contains a sweathouse, roundhouse, and other traditional dwellings that give visitors a glimpse into the past. While the village is not located on the remains of another, it was erected to show what a traditional settlement may have looked like for the Coast Miwok people.

Coast Miwok occupied this area for thousands of years prior to the European settlement of California, living off what the land provided them each season. They had a thriving economy based on hunting, gathering, and fishing – using strings of beads made from clam shells as their main form of currency!

Unlike the redwood structures at Kule Loklo, the Coast Miwok largely used tule (an abundant plant grown in the area) to make everything from their dwellings to baskets and even boats! Photo by Michele Maybee.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE COAST MIWOK: (information taken from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria website – link below)

  • 1579 – The earliest record of the Coast Miwok people, as noted by European sailors arriving in Marin County aboard Sir Francis Drake’s ship, The Golden Hind. (It should be noted that this date is only the earliest recorded account and that the Coast Miwok lived in the area long before the arrival of European settlers.)
  • Early 1800’s – Many of the Coast Miwok and other natives were displaced, killed, or died from diseases introduced by European settlers colonizing the area.
  • 1861 – U.S. Congress enacted legislation extinguishing Indian land-titles, leaving many tribes – like the Coast Miwok – landless.
  • 1924 – U.S. Congress grants full citizenship to all Native Americans born within the U.S.
  • 1958 – U.S. Congress passes the California Rancheria Act of 1958, effectively terminating the “recognition” of the Coast Miwok and many other tribes. This decision was made without the presence and consent of the tribal members being affected by this decision.
  • 2000 – President Clinton signed a new law restoring the “recognition” of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria – the descendants of the Coast Miwok – and provided for the restoration efforts of land back to tribe. (At this point in time, only one acre of land belonged to the tribe, held in private ownership by a Coast Miwok family.)

Exterior view of a sweathouse at Kule Loklo; photo by Katlyn Fuentes

The Big Time Festival included lectures from Point Reyes National Seashore archaeologists, and oral histories, songs, and dances from local tribe-members. There were also a variety of vendors – many of whom were eager to demonstrate to the public the intricacies of their given craft, whether it was basket-weaving, creating shell beads for jewelry, or even making stone knives!

Interior view of a Coast Miwok-style sweathouse; photo by Katlyn Fuentes

All in all, the event went off without a hitch, drawing in a total head-count of nearly 3,000 people! Between the blue skies and sunny weather, I couldn’t have asked for a better first visit to Kule Loklo and this area of Point Reyes National Seashore! If you happen to be in town this time next year, be sure to swing by for the festivities! And if you just can’t wait that long, check out the links below for more information on Kule Loklo and the Coast Miwok people. As the first stewards of this land, I think we can all take inspiration from learning more about these people, their rich culture, and how they were able to live in harmony with the environment around them!

Best fishes,

-Katlyn

For more information about Kule Loklo and the Coast Miwok Tribe, check out:

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Written by Katlyn Fuentes
Katlyn is an Aquatic and Fishery Sciences major and Anthropology minor at the University of Washington in Seattle. This summer she will be working as a Mosaics in Science intern with the National Park Service at Point Reyes National Seashore in California, assisting with the ongoing San Francisco Area Network Coho and Steelhead Monitoring Program. After completing this internship and graduating with her B.S., she plans on pursuing a career in conservation and management of natural resources.