The past week here at Point Reyes has been very busy with the Big Time Festival. Just to recap from past blogs, the Big Time Festival is a celebration of the traditions and heritage of the Coast Miwok tribe, and this event was the capstone project for my internship!
In preparation for the event, besides the logistics of collecting enough tables and shade canopies for all the vendors and demonstrators, I developed interpretive materials to place a new focus on the tribe’s future self-determination. The event pamphlet I designed contains a page about Traditional Ecological Knowledge, quoted below:
Traditional ecological knowledge refers to the evolving knowledge acquired by indigenous and local peoples over hundreds or thousands of years through direct contact with the environment, gained through many generations of learning passed down by elders about practical and spiritual practices. This knowledge is specific to a location and is an accumulating body of knowledge, practice, and belief about the relationship of living beings with one another and with the environment.
Early European accounts of California tell of pristine and bountiful “wilderness” untouched by humans, however we are now learning this is not the case! Here in Point Reyes National Seashore, the Coast Miwok worked the land for centuries, nurturing beneficial plants by removing harmful pests, pruning, and leaving enough for the plants to continue to prosper. As well, many California Indians, including the Coast Miwok, intentionally set fire to lands, which boosted plant productivity, controlled pests, removed underbrush, regenerated the soil, and attracted animals to the increased growth. The Coast Miwok people practiced another form of landscape management in that they intentionally transplanted small California bay trees (Umbellularia californica) to new habitats.
In addition to the pamphlet, I created a timeline about the Coast Miwok and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (the park’s official tribal partner). This activity aimed to highlight the long pre-contact Native Californian presence in Point Reyes. I also chose to focus on the importance of oral traditions and stories in passing down Coast Miwok culture through time.
The event was a huge success, and I spent the day acting as event photographer. All of my hard work paid off, and I got to enjoy watching the speakers, dancers, and acorn demonstrators. I was most pleased by seeing visitors engaging with my timeline, and I later learned that the Vice Chair of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria even complimented my work!
In addition to the festival, I have been developing a standard operating procedure for Tule grass (Schoenoplectus acutus) collection for future tribal outreach and education. This entailed much research about the plant and identifying locations in the park where it can be found. This document will be used to guide the harvesting of Tule grass so that the tribe can teach their youth the process of making traditional structures and goods.
I am hard at work finalizing my poster presentation that I will talk about in Washington D.C. in a couple weeks from now, and I’ll be sure to share my project in next week’s final blog! Until then, take care, and please leave any questions or comments below!