My mother was full-blood Diné from Shiprock, New Mexico. We moved outside of our sacred mountains when I was only a year old to live here in Marin, where my father grew up. I know it deeply affected my mother that she moved away from her Native community, and she was happy to find community here in Marin. She was part of the Marin Indian Alliance, attending local powwows, where she had long lines for her amazing fry bread, and every year we attended the Strawberry Festival at Kule Loklo in Point Reyes.
Lanny Pinola was a friend of my parents. His warm smile and sense of humor was a gift to be around. As a California Native and a ranger at the Point Reyes National Seashore, Lanny was able to connect the two realms. He helped to facilitate and maintain a Native perspective in Point Reyes. He always beamed with joy when his worlds collided while he was hosting California Indian events in the park.
The Strawberry Festival was a magical event for any child or even any adult to attend. They would roast a deer in the ground starting the night before and the smell would greet you when you walked up, making your mouth water. There would be dance, song, stories and speakers all day while the tables would begin to fill with strawberries. As a child, it felt torturous to wait, but community members would remind everyone that you can’t eat the strawberries until they had been blessed.
As I grew up, my participation shifted to being one of the community members who shooed the kids off while I stood with the others washing and prepping the dozens of baskets of berries. Some years I was even given a flower hoop and asked to join the dancers under the mother bay tree. The earth was soft from the years of dance and care put into the site. When Lanny passed, the Strawberry Festival did not continue in the same way and it eventually stopped altogether. It was a heartbreaking loss for many, and to this day, everyone attending in those days remembers those events with deep nostalgia and joy.
Thankfully, Redbird Willie, a close friend to Lanny, started up another type of gathering that honored the seasonal shifts and met in the roundhouse. Redbird, under Lanny’s instruction, helped to build the second roundhouse after the first burned in a fire. Those gatherings sparked up another sense of community that brought together Indigenous communities from around the world. Sometimes you would go and there would be five people and other times there would be 50. As they got older, my parents would drive out after picking up something from Costco to contribute to potlucks, sometimes staying ‘till after 2 a.m. Every winter after my parents passed, I always felt that they were there with us in spirit, and the little fox that showed up each time to peek into the roundhouse door must have been Lanny.
One of the most important lessons I learned from my mother is about place. She knew she was a guest on this land—that this was not her ancestral land. She respected that we are on lands belonging to Coast Miwok, Tomales Bay Indian, Pomo and the bands of Ohlone here in the Bay Area. It was often hard for her to handle the distance she had from her culture; however, she found community in the diversity of other Indigenous peoples who were either Native to the land, who relocated here by force or who voluntarily moved here. The Bay Area has one of the largest concentrations of American Indian people in the United States. It is in our nature to find a connection to the land and the place where we live. I have developed that connection with the Bay Area and, particularly, with the natural landscape of West Marin and the coast. My spirit is tied to the lands that I grew up in and around. It is a complex relationship I have with the area because I am Native to this country, but not to this particular land. I am a guest and I defer to the people Native to here. Yet I have spent more time in a roundhouse than I have in a hogan. I have never danced in my tribe’s ceremonies, but I have danced a number of times at Kule Loklo.
The news of a signed agreement between the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and the National Park Service sparks a glimmer of a hope for better times. I believe that including Indigenous knowledge and perspectives is essential to saving our planet. It is a monumental success when American Indian communities are included and encouraged to participate in conversations on land management and conservation. This is a great opportunity for FIGR to foster unity among all of those who identify as Coast Miwok and the American Indian community in Marin. I am hopeful that through these new relationships and a new cycle of growth and development, gatherings like the Strawberry Festival will start up again. The earth that hosted and heard the songs and prayers of so many American Indian peoples over decades will again awake, listen and be honored.
Victoria Grace Canby is the executive director at the Museum of the American Indian in Novato.