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Davis, California

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Indigenous Peoples’ Day has passed, but Davis tribes still deserve your support

Here’s a start to respecting the land you occupy


As UC Davis students and current inhabitants of Patwin land (pronounced puht-win), it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves about its history. How little we know about the land we live on makes it that much easier for us to disconnect ourselves from its original inhabitants, and the meaning of the land is lost if we don’t know its history. This not only disrespects but also ignores the long connection and ancestry of Patwin people to this land.

“Patwin” means “person” or “the people” in the Patwin language. The name was given to this subgroup of the northern-dwelling Wintun people in 1877 by American reporter and ethnographer Stephen Powers — a salient example of white Americans shaping Indigenous history.

Native peoples today are a dynamic manifestation of a long historical process which involves both peace and harmony, as well as colonization and genocide. They are living in a period of constant readjustment, having to work hard to retain their distinct culture while being surrounded by a non-Native community. This is especially difficult when tribes do not have legal rights to their own land, or a federally recognized reservation, such as the Patwin people. 

We seem to easily forget that the Indigenous peoples of this land are not confined to history textbooks. Today, the Patwin people are made up of three federally recognized tribes: the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, the Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community and the Kletsel Dehe Wintun Nation.

It is a constant battle for these Patwin tribes to gain respect and recognition of the land that belongs to them. As you walk around Davis, do you ponder the destruction of sacred land that was replaced with these streets, businesses and classrooms? It’s not entirely your fault if you don’t. It’s easy for Davis residents not to think about these things, in part because of the overwhelming development of the region, but also because of the lack of education surrounding this topic.

Not to mention, it’s difficult for the Patwin people to preserve their culture — never mind educate others on it — when they don’t have a recognized reservation from which to do so. Still, they’ve kept their culture alive. For example, thanks to the knowledge, hard work and care of the Indigenous people of this region, the Patwin language has been preserved. 

The Colusa Indian Community Council published the first edition of the Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians language book in 2004, a monumental step towards reclaiming their language. The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation prioritizes the protection of cultural sites and honors traditions that teach respect for the environment. Knowledge of the location and appropriate management of cultural sites has been handed down through generations and guides the work of the Yocha Dehe Cultural Resources Department. 

Our federal and state governments have a long and tragic history of disrespecting and disregarding Native communities. Rights are only honored when it’s convenient for them. Time and time again, we are taught that private property and developing infrastructure are more important than preserving the home and culture of Indigenous people. 

It’s impossible to undo the long history of violence against Native peoples in the United States, and it can be easy to feel like there’s nothing we can do as individual citizens to support those who first lived where we do now. However, there are things you can do to support the Patwin people. Visit online resources and read about their heritage. Educate yourself. Donate your time or money to cultural preservation efforts. Consider supporting local tribal-owned businesses such as the Yocha Dehe Golf Club, Séka Hills Olive Oil and the NikNek Lemonade stand at the farmer’s market. Pause for a moment of reflection and connection at the Native American Contemplative Garden located in the UC Davis Arboretum. 

We attend a university with one of the first Native American Studies (NAS) programs in the country. Created in 1969 by Jack D. Forbes (Powhatan-Renape-Lenap), David Risling (Yurok-Karuk-Hoopa), Carl N. Gorman (Navajo) and Sarah Hutchison (Cherokee), the NAS program offers a modern and global approach to the study of Indigenous peoples of the Americas. 

If you’re interested in learning more, you can also attend one of the many educational and artistic events open to the public at the Native Nest — or Native American Academic Student Success Center — located on the UC Davis campus at the University House. The Native Nest is focused on creating a sense of belonging for Native American students in a culturally appropriate way. This includes providing a space for empowering the academic and personal journeys of Indigenous students, no matter the connection they feel to their tribal identities. Their community includes staff, faculty and alumni from a variety of tribal backgrounds, experiences and academic interests. 

Visiting the Gorman Museum of Native American Art, located at 181 Old Davis Road, is another way to reflect on, honor and support Native peoples. It recently reopened on Sept. 22, marking the museum’s 50th anniversary. Their opening exhibition features works by 20 California Native artists, although the collection consists of about 2,250 works, most of them created since 1980. The Gorman Museum is one of the few museums in the country focused on contemporary Native American art and was established in 1973 in honor of Carl Nelson Gorman — an artist, WWII code talker, cultural historian and advocate for Native peoples.

UC Davis released a land acknowledgment statement several years ago written by the Tribal Council of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation that is often read aloud before university events. While this statement is a positive step towards educating the local public, it has unfortunately become white noise to many students. Other than the names of the Patwin tribes, we are not taught much more about the original inhabitants and stewards of this land. This past Monday, Oct. 9, was Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and it serves as a reminder to honor the Native peoples of our country. It’s up to us to educate ourselves. It’s the least we can do.

Written by: The Editorial Board