Vanessa Vasquez - Seeing Home Through New Eyes
In June 2014, FRLT Membership Coordinator Vanessa Vasquez participated in a symposium held at Heart K Ranch, " Maidu Relationships to Land: A gathering of people." She was quite moved by the experience, and she shares her reflections with us here. Vanessa joined the FRLT team in August 2013.
Although I had spent many hours at the Heart K Ranch for work (FRLT owns and manages the Heart K) before June of 2014, my experience on one particular weekend was unique and one I will always remember.
On June 26, 27, and 28 I was a participant in a gathering and camp-out hosted by Trina Cunningham of the Maidu Summit Consortium and organized in conjunction with the Northeast Information Center of Chico State University. This gathering was called "Maidu Relationships to Land: A gathering of people." The Symposium, as we called it, was organized around dialoguing about Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), planning with traditional management practices and how current land managers like the US Forest Service and the Land Trust can incorporate TEK. The gathering was also about recognizing the knowledge and skills of the Mountain Maidu whose land we now are living on and call ours. Participants included a large contingent from the Plumas National Forest, Plumas Audubon members, Chico State faculty and students, Maidu Summit Consortium leaders, local Genesee and Indian Valley residents, ranchers, members of the Greenville and Susanville Rancheria and FRLT staff.
Food was abundant at the gathering, we camped under big Ponderosas and shared wine in the evening. I took a solitary walk to the river for a chilly dip and watched a doe come down to the bank for a drink. On the morning of the second day many of us took a bird walk with Plumas Audubon interns and we listened to the calls through a Healthy Forest restoration area. Heart K natives, Trina and Marvin Cunningham shared family stories of farm life in Genesee Valley. We sat in a circle, listened and got to know one another.
While many participants shared wisdom, ways we can do better as land stewards, and a deep love for nature that ties us together, the opening words of an elder and lifetime resident of Indian Valley struck me with their universality and hope. The valuable takeaways I got from Wilhelmina Ives are the following:
Be a good person. Be kind to one another. In order to be a good person you have to live true to yourself and have self-respect. Be a leader by leading by example. We are all in this together but life is fairly simple. Work hard and have respect for yourself, the land and your community. While we can never go back to the way things were we can have a good life by finding balance.
What I learned from the TEK Symposium weekend was how to be a better community member--while our forests and waterways may need immediate attention and restoration they also need sustained care just as our human relationships do. We are not just caretakers, we are cared for by our non-human communities (plants, forests, waters). As we cultivate and re-establish our connections to the land (as we strive to do in the conservation field) we also need to remember to honor and respect our elders, the people that came before us and all the people who are right here with us in our current ecosystem.