Past generations instill a sense of spirit in Cathy Bishop, who smiled during the 29th annual Intertribal Gathering and Elders Dinner on Saturday as she remembered the life of her grandmother.
”Your elders are your source of life,” said Bishop, who has roots in the Hoopa, Yurok, Maidu and Wintun tribes. “You learn a lot from them, so you have to show them great respect.”
Bishop grew up in a foster home and became close with her grandmother at a young age. She remembers tagging along with her to pass out food at various Indian reservations in and around Yuba County in central California, work that earned her grandmother the nickname “The Muffin Lady.”
”That's what she did; she was always helping people,” Bishop said. “Wherever people needed her, she was there.”
A mother of two, Bishop worked for 37 years in social services before trying her hand at making jewelry, which she sold on Saturday at the gathering. She isn't going to forget her grandmother, who died in 2000 at the age of 103.
”Fortunately, I was able to learn a lot from her,” said Bishop. “I'd like to think that my spirit can one day be as bright as hers.”
Thousands of people turned out for the annual event at Redwood Acres fairgrounds, which honored veterans and anyone 55 and older with a free turkey and salmon dinner. Organized by the Northern California Indian Development Council (NCIDC), the gathering drew Native Americans from dozens of different tribes across the state.
”We want to bring people together and let them see all the different cultures that are here,” said Andre Cramblit, a member of Karuk tribe who helped put together the event. “And to recognize the elders and show them that we appreciate all the work they do.”
Festivities included multiple dance demonstrations from local tribes, as well as a variety of vendors featuring buffalo burgers and Indian tacos with fried bread. The celebration is held each November as part of Native American Heritage Month.
Richard Myers, chairman of NCIDC, said a big part of the event is to remind people that Humboldt County is home to a large number of Native Americans. If you include Del Norte, Trinity and Siskiyou counties, there are more than 7,000 Native Americans living on the North Coast, Myers said.
”It's neat, we have people from all over,” said Myers, a member of the Yurok tribe. “We're still here.”
Myers hopes the gathering brings attention to the needs of the Yurok tribe, which includes over 5,000 people -- the most of any of the 108 tribes in California. The reservation straddles the Klamath River about 90 miles north of Eureka, and much of it is still without electricity, something Myers is working to change this year with the help of federal grants.
”It's 2010, and it's time we get some electricity,” said Myers, a veteran of the Vietnam War who served four years in the Navy and now lives on the reservation. “It's home for me.”
But Myers isn't the only one looking to ensure that his fellow Native Americans are getting their needs met. Rea Cichocki has spent the last year traveling up and down California to speak at various conferences, and two weeks ago became the first woman to be nominated a commander of the National American Indian Veterans.
”I'm taking care of my brothers and sisters out there because they're hurting,” said Cichocki, who spent 38 years in the Army, most recently during a three year stint in Iraq. She was on hand Saturday as part of the honor guard, and stressed the importance of remembering where you come from and the value elders offer to Native American culture.
”They have the stories and the knowledge that is being lost,” Cichocki said. “You need to glean that information from them so that you can pass it on.”
Matt Drange can be reached at 441-0514 or firstname.lastname@example.org