River Rock Casino News

The Fine Art of Basket Weaving

Posted in Culture

One shared tradition among all the Pomo communities was the art of fine basket weaving. The intricate basketry, created out of necessity, developed over time into an important art form. Baskets were used for cooking, food gathering, storage, and healing. In addition, sturdy elegant woven cradle baskets held infants, while ornate baskets were created for specific rituals and family memorials and ceremonies integral to daily Pomo life. Vibrant hues of bird feathers and glass seed beads, clamshell discs, and quail feather plumes decorated gift baskets used for special occasions such as weddings and funerals.

In addition to baskets, Pomo artists manufactured elaborate jewelry fashioned from abalone and clamshells which they assembled during the winter months in Dry Creek. During the summer, Pomo groups traveled to and from various sites along the coast where they fished and gathered a variety of clams and seaweed from the bounty of the sea to broaden their diet staple, acorns. Using nature's resources, Pomo would create stunning, intricate, and unique forms of clamshell necklaces worn during dance and ritual celebrations by both men and women.

Pomo produced strings of clamshell discs used as money. They were known as "the moneyers" of Northern California. Clamshell discs are flat and button-like, with a smooth, subtle luster and polish from years of handling. Used for monetary exchange, strings of shell discs (measured by exact width and diameter) could be measured and counted. Perhaps this affinity for trading attracted the migrating Russian seafarers who entered the area in the early 1700s to hunt sea otter.
Exploitation of Pomo communities first by Russian, secondly by European, and, eventually, American groups throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, imposed heavy tolls on the Pomo. By the mid-1800s, American immigrants, dreaming of new lives, arrived in California seeking gold. The combination of the number of settlers to the region and the richness of agriculturally valuable lands resulted in the federal government's decision to resettle the Pomo and force them to relocate onto newly established reservations or Rancherias. Today, the relocation is remembered as one of the most destructive in Pomo history and is referred to as the "Death March."

With completion of the new Central Pacific Railroad in 1869, the onslaught of settlers to the area quickly displaced growing numbers of Pomo from their traditional land. Along with the influence of the Europeans, California Indians, once estimated at 330,000, declined to only 15,000 by the early 1900's. In the 1910 census, only 1,200 Pomo were recorded.

In addition to the devastation to tribal life, the loss of traditional lands was a direct result from the decades of forcible relocation from area to area. Today, the original Dry Creek Pomo habitation area is flooded by the water from the Warm Springs Dam and Lake Sonoma. Army Corps of Engineers reports, as well as other historical documentation, relates to some 86,000 acres lost to 40 new settlers. Official recognition for the Mihila Kawna by the federal government did not occur until 1915, thus creating the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians. With a small population remaining on this remote 75-acre area of steep slopes, the Dry Creek Band remains together without segregated land entitlements. Communal ownership meant the land remained available to all members of the tribal community, not parceled out to individual members of the Tribe.