Fall gathering at the Malki Museum
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I like small museums. Just west of the Outlet stores at Cabezon, off of Fields Road, sits the Malki Museum. The Museum, co-founded by Dr. Katherine Saubel, to preserve the Cahuilla language and traditions, had its annual fall gathering was this weekend. If you get a chance to visit, do so. It’s one of those small museums that packs a lot of punch, especially if you are interested in cultural knowledge.
From Cabezon, take Fields road past the Crazy Coyotes Taco stand (excellent tacos, by the way) onto the reservation. There is a guarded gate to control traffic now, so stop and show your driver’s license and tell them that you are going to visit the museum. They can give you directions (it’s straight ahead on the left).
I was taking some pictures for the News from Native California to go along with a short article on it. I had also gotten a personal invitation from Kevin Siva and Dr. Katherine Siva Saubel when I met them at the California Indian Conference recently. I was introduced to them at the CIC by the excellent cultural photographer Ira Nowinski. Such an invitation is not to be ignored.
Ira Nowinski is a great cultural photographer, who the more I learn about him, the more I realize I’ve seen his pictures. His work on Man Ray’s studio, was a part of my art history studies, and his work on the Holocaust illustrated several of the books I read in a Holocaust class I took with Stephanie Hammer while I was in Graduate school at UC Riverside. Katherine Saubel is the Cahuilla elder and native Cahuilla speaker who helped found the Malki museum and her efforts to preserve the language and culture in a series of books (published by the museum) earned her a much deserved honorary doctorate. She is a tremendous cultural source. She is Kevin’s auntie, but I have a feeling more attention will be paid to his contributions in the next few years. Kevin was the emcee of the fall gathering and shows tremendous knowledge.
I arrived while Lori Sisquoc, Malki board member, head of the Sherman Indian High Museum, and excellent basket weaver, was introducing the audience to native games. Her husband is the nationally-known artist and Riverside local Billy Warsoldier. I got to know him better recently when we gave him a ride home from the California Indian Conference.
Abe Sanchez then gave a presentation on native foods with samples, including holly leaf cherry, smoked salmon, manzanita, rose hips, chia seeds and yummy grasshoppers. Most people skipped the grasshoppers, but dug the chia cornbread. Then, Katherine Saubel spoke about how development was destroying important native food and medicinal plants, and how hard it is to find these plants these days. The first half of the day concluded with bird singers.
But seriously now, it wasn’t about being force-fed heavy cultural stuff. It was more about stuffing your face with an excellent lunch of native foods while learning some things about the local culture.
Lunch is almost always the highlight of my workday, and this was especially interesting. The meal included venison stew with authentic tepary beans, agave pods, nopales, wewish (acorn mush) and excellent hand-made tortillas. I was busy photographing, so I missed the turkey, but got a really tasty posole that reminded me of the ones made around Hopi, but with more chilies in the soup.
The tepary beans were grown locally with seeds from Native Seeds seed bank in Tucson. Native plant varieties can be purchased online from them, and they offer a free seed program and outreach for Native peoples.
For dessert, a couple all the way from Santo Domingo in new Mexico made frybread for everyone. To make the frybread, she used a stick made from sage that had been used by her grandmother. They really knew what they were doing.
If you are interested in having them at your own gathering, I have their contact information.
Then Donna Largo of the California Indian Basketweavers Association, Katherine Saubel and her brother Alvino Siva talked. The day ended with Lori Sisquoc and Lele Loupe showing people how to weave baskets. Here is Lori showing Christie how to finish her little basket.
While talking with Donna Largo, we got an invitation to go to the California Indian Basketweavers Association gathering at Santa Rosa Reservation for the 7th, 8th and 9th of November. They will be teaching basket weaving there.
The museum itself is quaint. If you go when nothing is going on, there are a few exhibits telling the history of the Cahuilla and of their culture. A personal favorite part of the museum, is the garden with important plants (unfortunately closed when I visited due to recent vandalism).
One of the strengths of the museum is its series of publications, many of which were written or co-written by Dr. Sauble. The uses of various plants are explained in her book (with Lowell John Bean) Temalpakh, which means “From the Earth,” an excellent ethnobotany text. Her autobiography is a massive, two-volume affair that recounts her life and culture in detail that no-one else can, as one of the last few native Cahuilla speakers. She has also collaborated on a dictionary and grammar of the Cahuilla so that it can be preserved and taught.
There is also a small recipe book with many of the recipes that were served at lunch.
They have several gatherings throughout the year, as well as an agave harvesting field trip in the spring. For such a small museum, it’s really a tremendous local source of information, as well as a lot of fun. You know what? Come to think about it, lunch was on the house. How much better could that be?