“My highest hope when I joined the FRLT board in 2001, was to help raise awareness about a relationship to place that’s not merely about recreation, or what you can get from a place, but also about what you can give back, balancing humans’ needs with the earth’s needs,” says Trina Cunningham, who retired this year after serving nine years on the FRLT board. “I also wanted to gain more awareness of what I could do to take care of the system that’s taking care of us.”
Trina’s roots in the Feather River country go deeper than most. She is a descendent of Welsh immigrant John Davies and Maidu resident Mary Yatkin, who established the Davis Ranch, which is now part of FRLT’s Heart K Ranch in Genesee Valley. Trina has fond memories of running free on the ranch where she grew up, playing at the creek, raising animals, gathering eggs, and tasting from every tree in the apple orchard. Trina’s experiences as a child, and later running cattle in Sierra Valley, have given her a rancher’s sense of caring for the land. That is one reason she has dedicated her time and leadership to the Feather River Land Trust.
But Trina’s roots in Genesee Valley go even deeper as a member of the Mountain Maidu people, the Feather River Watershed’s longest known residents. “As Native people, we’ve experienced heartbreak time after time, seeing the degradation of special and sacred places,” says Trina. “It takes a lot of endurance. I’m hoping that there can be a place where my children don’t have to relive that.” When the Davis and Heart K Ranches, which include family and Maidu sacred sites, were threatened by development, Trina says she didn’t even think it conceivable that FRLT could one day protect and own them. But with an incredible community effort, the Heart K Ranch, including the Davis Ranch and Taylor Lake, will be protected for Trina’s children and our larger community to enjoy for generations to come.
Conservation of lands throughout the Feather River Watershed is critical to sustaining Maidu culture and relationship to land. “As Maidu people, we didn’t ever own land,” Trina explains. “We had the right to gather from it, and the responsibility to give back to it.” When the Gold Rush came, treaties that would have set aside reservation lands were never ratified, and so the Maidu people still do not own land. To keep cultural practices alive, the Maidu need access to diverse lands to gather plants like Bear Grass, wild potatoes, and stick tea, all of which grow at different elevations and have different habitat requirements. With innovative conservation strategies that protect cultural access and practices, Trina sees hope in the Land Trust’s work. “I am happy the Land Trust is so respectful of Maidu values. I would like to see FRLT and its partners create more access to land for Maidu people so that we can gather what we need in order to live.”
Sustainability and reciprocity are at the core of Maidu relationship to land: “We have a responsibility to steward the land. I’d like to see stewardship agreements on conserved lands so that Maidu people can care for these resources for our own traditional uses, but also to teach other people. It may become necessary for all people to know how to sustain themselves.” FRLT’s vision includes working closely with Maidu people to promote their traditional ecological knowledge and relationship to land, and even though Trina has retired from the board, she will continue to work with FRLT to bring this vision to life.
Conservation and restoration of all people’s relationship to land is at the heart of FRLT’s work, and the heartbeat of Trina’s life. “I would like the opportunity to reconstruct my history from the beginning, so that all that has been destructive and damaging can become purposeful and healing. I believe the Land Trust can be one of the avenues that can open up a healing, beautiful relationship to land for myself and other people as well.”
It is people like Trina, and dedicated members like you, that make FRLT’s work possible. Trina sums it up well: “FRLT doesn’t do anything alone – it’s not a singular effort. It engages the community and builds strong partnerships. It’s a really good model for effective land conservation.”
This article was previously printed in FRLT's 2009-2010 Annual Report.