.Native American Heritage Month in the North Bay

Every year, the nation spends the month of November acknowledging and honoring the Native American heritage and history intrinsically tied to the land that every United States citizen calls home.

But very few who live in modern America can trace their family roots any further back than a few centuries. And though centuries might sound like a lot of time to some, consider this context: Scientific evidence places the existence of early human settlements in what we now call California as far back as 130,000 years ago.

For further context and to help frame the timeline of Native American civilization, consider Christopher Columbus, who infamously sailed the ocean blue in 1492…only 531 years ago. That math implies that, for nearly 129,500 years, through ice ages and evolution and the discovery of agriculture itself, the original inhabitants of the Americas lived (almost entirely) uninterrupted.

Until, of course, (audacious and entitled) European explorers brought disease and genocide to the shores of these United States.

In the North Bay, all across the sweeping hills and valleys, along the riverbanks and up and down every part of the abundant California coast, it is impossible to take a step in any direction without following in the footsteps of those who lived here long before Europeans even knew of the concept of a “new world.” Which was actually an old, nigh ancient and already well-established landscape of complex, ever-changing and evolving civilizations.

The counties of Marin, Napa and Sonoma boast a rich history of Native American heritage. And, in that, the North Bay bears the burden of having played a critical role in the events that led up to the cruel eradication of an entire group of people. And it all began when privateer, Sir Francis Drake, first landed in Point Reyes in 1579 at the behest of Queen Elizabeth I—there he was met with the Coastal Miwok, and the rest is history.

But in recent years, small changes to incrementally improve the circumstances of Indigenous Americans have come, especially since the establishment of November as Native American Heritage Month, as well as the reparative efforts for and of the remaining representatives of the first people of this place north of the Golden Gate. But these changes are slow to come and can never truly encompass or compensate for the effects of European exploration and colonization.

This November, the North Bay has some opportunities in store for those who want to learn about and experience what life looked like as a Native American, both throughout history and through the lens of the remaining few true Indigenous individuals from this area.

One such opportunity is none other than the grand reopening of Marin’s Museum of the American Indian, which temporarily closed its doors during the COVID-19 pandemic. The president and chair of the board of directors for the Museum of the American Indian, Dean Hoaglin, Tamal’ko Coast Miwok, wrote in the press release for the museum’s grand re-opening:

“We are committed to revitalizing our cultural space, restoring it to its full glory, and bringing back the heart and soul of our institution. And we invite you to play a pivotal role in this inspiring journey. Your donations will directly fund exciting enhancements, such as interactive exhibits, captivating displays, and educational programs that will leave a lasting impact on our visitors. Your commitment to our cause will enable us to preserve and celebrate history, culture, and art in an even more remarkable way.”

In honor of November being Native American Heritage month, the Museum of the American Indian in Marin has officially announced its impending re-opening, which is set to take place in early 2024. There, curious individuals can come alone or with family, friends or fellow classmates to experience carefully curated, rotating exhibits showcasing collections of artistic works, highlighting the culture and creative skillset of Novato’s early Native American inhabitants.

Alongside art exhibits, the Museum of the American Indian also provides opportunities for education through programs that include lessons about local tribes’ history, identity and knowledge of the ecological systems around them. The museum also hosts events all year round, with opportunities to attend lectures, readings, workshops and cultural events.

The Museum of the American Indian is an excellent venue to visit for those who want to know more about not only the Native American heritage and history of the North Bay, but also for those who wish to join in celebrating the preservation of creativity, tradition and a continued spirit of community support that can still be found in the North Bay to this day.

Although it is located in Novato at 2200 Novato Blvd., it is asked that all mail be sent to their PO Box 864, also in Novato. For more information about the Museum of the American Indian and its mission or to provide support in the form of a donation, visit the website at marinindian.com or call 415.897.4064.

Alongside the news of Marin’s museum re-opening, the North Bay’s Native American Heritage Month has equally exciting events across the culturally diverse cities that comprise Sonoma and Napa as well. The Sonoma County Library, for instance, has excellent resources to learn more about Native American Heritage Month. Visit the library website at sonomalibrary.org/index.php/stayinformed/librarynews/nativeamerican to learn more.

Another example can be found in Petaluma, which made historical waves on Veteran’s Day weekend by combining the annual Veteran’s Day Parade with the inclusion of Native American representatives in a tradition that has held firm since 1991. In order to show support of America’s veterans as well as represent the Native American veterans, the American Indian Preservation Fund (AIPF) annually joins the Petaluma parade and marches with a ceremonial redwood dugout canoe (or two).

“Native American veterans from Oregon and Nevada are joining us,” said chairperson of the AIPF and U.S. Marine, Terrance “Chitcus” Brown, in his press release. “From California, they’re coming in from Susanville, Sacramento, and San Jose to march in honor of those that served and those that are serving today. God Bless our Veterans. Blessings for ALL that have lost loved ones. We march to Honor those that have fallen on foreign soil. We Pray for those MIA, POWs, and Agent Orange Veterans who have been abandoned,” Brown continued.

So, whether or not it is the month of November, remember to consider the impact of the Native American heritage all along the idyllic coastal landscape of today’s North Bay. And, when possible, make it a priority to learn about, support and preserve the legacy of California’s first people.

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