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Maidu celebrate beginning of "flower season"

Leafing Out of Spring event takes place Sunday at the Maidu Museum
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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During the Maidu’s annual Leafing Out of Spring celebration, young men dance and pound on the ground with their feet. “It’s like drumming the earth to say, ‘We’re awake now,’” said Rick Adams, a Nisenan and docent at the Maidu Museum and Historic Site in Roseville. Young women dance, dressed in traditional attire, and indigenous people sing songs encouraging the beginning of the “flower season,” also known as spring. Through these traditional customs, the Maidu honor the earth and promote healing of the land and water. “Leafing Out is the renewal of Mother Nature,” said April Moore, a Nisenan. “It’s the evolution of our flowers, trees and plants. It’s the rebirth.” The annual Leafing Out of Spring celebration takes place this Sunday at the Maidu Museum and Historic Site on Johnson Ranch Drive. The free event features native art, poetry, dance, cultural-skills demonstrations, children’s activities, storytelling, an ethnobotany walk, a crafts fair and guided trail tours. Last year’s event attracted about 3,000 people. Three groups of closely related people comprise the tribe collectively known as the Maidu: the Mountain Maidu, Konkow and Nisenan. For thousands of years, these American Indians inhabited the land from the crest of the High Sierra, west to the Sacramento River and south to the Cosumnes River. “(The ceremony) is our celebration of life,” Adams said. “It’s not just a social gathering. It’s about honoring the earth, not taking from it. The biggest thing we can do is not insulate ourselves from nature. (We need to) come out of the insulation we cocoon ourselves in.” At the event, Moore, a cultural-skills specialist from Weimar will demonstrate the preparation of acorn meal. She will have the food available for visitors to sample. “Outside of Indian people, most people don’t like (acorn meal),” Moore said. “It’s an acquired taste.” Once a staple Maidu food, acorn meal is now mainly eaten at ceremonies and special events. Moore said women used to gather 200 pounds of acorns per person to have enough food for half the year — they would gather again in the fall. Moore gathers acorns from a black oak tree in her backyard and from property nearby where she’s allowed to collect as much as she needs. A Mountain Maidu man will weave baskets at the event, and another man will make handmade tools and instruments. A flintnapper will demonstrate his craft, which is the process of making stone tools, such as arrowheads. Miwok dancers have also been invited to participate because they historically lived close to the Maidu, and some are part Maidu. Back in the 1800s, the Spanish entered Maidu land and trappers brought malaria to the valley in 1832. An estimated 50 to 75 percent of the native population died from the disease. An influx of white people occurred during the Gold Rush era of the mid-1800s, and before long, the American Indian population was forced to leave the lands they had occupied for thousands of years. Legal and societal changes soon prompted the assimilation of indigenous populations into mainstream Anglo-American society. As a result, many American Indian tribes lost their traditional languages, customs and cultural identity. “We have a hidden place in our heart that is void and these ceremonies fill that void,” Adams said. Moore worked in education for 28 years and said events such as Leafing Out of Spring teach children about topics not typically covered in California schools. “(This event) is an opportunity for kids to learn about something besides what’s in their textbooks, which is very nominal,” she said. “It’s a long educational process. It’s a tiny glimpse into (Maidu) life. You’re talking about thousands of years of cultural history.” Adams said that when Maidu people attend traditional ceremonies and see their culture expressed in such a beautiful way, they leave wanting to learn more. “Once you get the flame started in you, it hooks you,” Adams said. He’s most excited to see Maidu children who get their first exposure to their heritage at Sunday’s event. He said each year he enjoys witnessing young men honor their elders by dancing how they’ve been taught, which is to emulate those who danced before them. “Knowing our history, our lineage, coming back to these ceremonies — this is how we draw people back to their own people, back to their roots,” Adams said. “They hear it inside of their hearts to come back.” Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.