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Native American Heritage Month. Excitement filled the air in Sacramento on a cool and breezy Tuesday morning as some 500 tribal leaders and citizens, elected leaders, other dignitaries, and students gathered for the unveiling of the first-ever Capitol Park monument, near California's state capitol, that acknowledges California American Indian tribes. 

The historic tribute specifically recognizes the Sacramento region tribes of Wilton Rancheria, Ione Band of Miwok Indians, Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians, Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians, Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians, and Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians.

The Miwok skirt dancer portrayed in the monument is modeled after William J. Franklin Sr., the late respected Miwok leader and cultural dancer. Franklin played a critical role in preserving Miwok dances and traditions, and helped build three Northern California roundhouses, dedicated spaces for Native American ceremonies, songs, dances, and gatherings. Sacramento sculptor Ronnie Frostad designed the monument. 

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The new monument replaces the statue of controversial Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra, which stood in the park since 1967, was toppled by protestors on July 4 2020, but because the sculpture was created pursuant to legislation in the 1960s, another law was required to create a new monument. 

The monument is the tenth addition to a park memorializing California’s firefighters, veterans, and public safety officers. It is the first addition to the park since 2009, when the statue of Thomas Starr King was brought to California from Boston. King was a Civil War-era minister, orator, and abolitionist. The park was envisioned in 1863 as a place to reflect and celebrate the state’s history and natural beauty, according to the Capitol Park website.

Assemblymember James C. Ramos )Serrano/Cahuilla tribe and former chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians)—first California Native American elected to the Legislature since statehood in 1850—authored AB 338 in 2021, which authorized the monument.

“This monument—now a centerpiece of Capitol Park—adds a new and long overdue chapter to California’s relationship with its tribes. As a state, we are beginning to tell our history from a broader, more complete, and accurate perspective by including the voice of California Native Americans.” Ramos said, “As Native Americans, we have been invisible, romanticized, minimized, or disparaged for centuries. That is not easily or quickly undone. But today I am proud to be Native American and proud to be a Californian.”

Organizers worked hard to ensure the new monument was unveiled in November, which is Native American Heritage Month.

“Mr. Franklin was a teacher of Native culture and he understood that our stories, songs, and culture need to be shared and taught to new generations,” Ramos said. “He would have been pleased to see so many students here, of all ages—and particularly proud to see students from a school recently named Miwok.” Until June, Miwok Middle School was named after John Sutter, who enslaved Native people during California’s Gold Rush period.

Here's what tribal leaders said about the unveiling:

Wilton Rancheria Chairman Jesus Tarango stated, “Today’s unveiling signifies the start of a new era at the California State Capitol. One where we stop uplifting a false narrative and start honoring the original stewards of this land by telling a true and accurate portrayal of California’s journey to statehood. 

“Every tribe across the state has their own Bill Franklin, a leader who fought to keep our cultures and traditions alive during a time where it was dangerous to do so. This monument serves to thank and honor each one of them.

“It also celebrates the power California Tribes have when we work together to achieve a common goal. I would like to thank my fellow Tribal Leaders and Assemblymember Ramos for their collaboration throughout this legislative process.”

Sara Dutschke, chairperson of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians, applauded the joint tribal effort. “AB 338 [the law authorizing the statue] paved the way for real collaboration and partnership among many of the Miwok tribes of the Sacramento region,” Dutschke said. “Working together, we have achieved an amazing accomplishment: Installation of the very first monument on State Capitol grounds that honors California’s First People. This sort of recognition for our people is long overdue and represents an important step toward telling the true history of California.”

Lloyd Mathiesen, chairman of the Chicken Ranch Rancheria, stated, “We are so excited for this day—for this day and this statue to forever be a reminder of where we came from and that if we stand together, we can accomplish anything.”

Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians Chairwoman Rhonda Pope said ”AB338 is a step toward healing for the hundreds of thousands of our ancestors who lost their lives due to the genocide of the missions led by Junipero Serra.”

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Levi Rickert
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Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].