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Traditional Maidu Hu' centerpiece of spring celebration

Annual Yomen event takes place April 29
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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The day is warm and sunny, quiet except for the sounds of birds chirping as a man and woman surrounded by oak trees and blackberry bushes construct a traditional American Indian Hu'.

Two weeks ago, Rick Adams, a Nisenan Maidu tribal elder, harvested willow to use for the hut, just as his ancestors did generations ago. Willow stalks are flexible and strong. In those days, California boasted a wide variety of native plants, which tribes used as part of daily life.

Adams also harvested tule, which will be wrapped around the hut. But, unlike his ancestors' practices, Adams' tule pile isn't soaking in a nearby marsh to make it a suitable building material. Instead, a sprinkler waters the plant.

That's just the reality of an ancient culture thriving in the modern world.

"It's very much a living culture we're representing," says Mark Murphy, supervisor of the Maidu Museum and Historic Site in Roseville.

The museum is hosting its 11th annual Yomen: A Spring Celebration Sunday, April 29. The event commemorates spring's arrival, but it also shows how the Maidu culture remains alive and vibrant.

On Wednesday afternoon, Adams - the museum's cultural heritage specialist - prepares for the celebration by constructing the Hu' where visitors can observe the small building from the trail.

"We were acknowledged as tulle people," Adams says, as he works.

Because of the material's versatility, tule was used for canoes, mats, hunting traps, baskets and to insulate huts. After being wrapped with tule, the structure will be covered with soil, which hardens into a shell. 

The design varies depending on tribe, geographic area and material available. The one Adams is making is a very small version. Traditionally, when women traveled to the river they would build a Hu' and stay for a few weeks. The permanent huts require soil.

"Women could do it easily in one day, as long as she has all her material," Adams says.

On this particular afternoon, he has help from Linda Maurer, a volunteer coordinator for the museum.

"It really is calming to be under the oaks, tying the willows," she says. "It's really a lot of fun actually."

Spring is an especially pleasant time, as the creek runs high and a western pond turtle and four-foot long gopher snake have made their home in the historic site, along with a coyote. There's also a great egret that has adopted the area. A volunteer put up wood duck boxes by the marsh and these now contain 25 eggs. Another volunteer photographed around 30 different varieties of wildflowers found at the site, and turned his artwork into a book for sale in the museum store.

During the Yomen celebration, there will be local dances, acorn grinding, flint knapping, elderberry flute making and more. There will also be a ceremony to honor Maidu elders.

"Elders are a prime example of what we're (supposed to be) emulating," Adams says. "They have morals and decision making that comes with time and age. Life experience doesn't come in a lunch pail box."

Elders go through life's changes and challenges - finding a mate, having a mate, raising children - and gain wisdom from these experiences.

"In this society, as people become older they are not relegated to the position they have earned," Adams says. "(But) they know how to live and respond to human nature. They are walking goldmines of community health."

He returns to building the Hu', with only a week and a half left to finish the big project.

"In a lot of ways, it keeps me emotionally happy," Adams says, as he works.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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Yomen: A Spring Celebration

What: Opening blessing, dance groups, traditional art and craft demonstrations, guided tours, children's activities, craft fair, food

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, April 29

Where: Maidu Museum and Historic Site, 1970 Johnson Ranch Drive

Cost: Free

Info: www.maidumuseum.org