On Saturday, February 25th, at 2 p.m., the Grace Hudson Museum will host a talk by historian Dr. William J. Bauer, Jr., a member of the Wailacki and Concow tribes of the Round Valley Indian Reservation, based on his recently released book, "California Through Native Eyes: Reclaiming History." A book signing and reception will follow. The event is free with Museum admission.
The genesis of this book in itself tells a story, one of an ancestral encounter. Dr. Bauer, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was conducting some research when the name of his great-grandfather, Charles Wright, appeared in the document he was reading. Wright was telling an amazing story from the Concow people (originating in the Chico area, later relocated to Round Valley) that interwove the doings of Jesus with that of mythical beings of his own tribe. The year was 1935, and Wright, an old man at the time, was relating his memories to a younger Native interviewer hired by the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber. Kroeber himself had been hired by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), a public program initiated by Franklin Roosevelt that was part of his Depression-era programs to restimulate the U.S. economy and culture. The stories in this book are based on sources from Concow, Paiute, and Pomo peoples from those narratives.
Bauer was so interested that he set out to study the documents from which his great-grandfather's name first originated. The result, after five years of studying thousands of pages of the original transcripts, is this book--unique in that it tells the history of California using entirely Native sources. As such, it focuses on their resilience, telling stories centered on their own way of experiencing the world in order to create a viable future.
One notable difference in this experience is centered on the sense of time. California Native stories don't begin with the discovery by Columbus and other Settlers (as they are called in this book) of the "New World," and then centrally focus on the mass settlement of the West during the Gold Rush, and its aftermath. Instead, stories stretch back to the time of creation. Stories are used to teach the next generation; thus what stories are told and what in them is emphasized may change according to context. Stories are likely to center on place; as Bauer puts it, "It matters more where the story took place than when." For example, the Concow name for Lassen Peak is West Mountain, because it lay on the western edge of the territory where the sun set. This method of re-visioning--literally, re-seeing--stories, Bauer states, "asks us to change our relationship to how we think about certain people and landscapes."
In addition to giving us a sense of the rich panoply of stories, Bauer's book covers Native prophecies, which includes predictions of the advent of Europeans; their own version of this advent, and the wars and resettlements that followed; and an account of the struggle to employ their own healing practices when confronted with the health crises of the times, which included tuberculosis.
When asked what he learned most from writing this book, Bauer replied, "What really struck me is how many oral traditions were remembered in the late 30s. There is a belief that oral history disappeared in the 19th century, but I was impressed by the sheer magnitude and quantity of them." This has led Bauer to believe that Native cultures are not disappearing: "They are still active, still vital today." "California Through Native Eyes" is eloquent testimony to this continuity.
The Grace Hudson Museum is at 431 S. Main St. in Ukiah. The Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 4:30 p.m. General admission is $4; $10 per family; $3 for students and seniors; free to all on the first Friday of the month; and always free to members. For more information please go to www.gracehudsonmuseum.org or call (707) 467-2836.