2010 SPT Article

The first annual Buckeye Gathering

by Genine Coleman & Rusty Sparks


For several years a small group of us, inspired by Backtracks events, have been making threats to begin a similar gathering in Northern California.  There is a wealth of natural resources in this bioregion, and a historical density of cultures – including a modern day abundance of folks who show interest in a local primitive technology gathering.  We began looking for the land in mid-2009, and what found us last autumn was Ya-Ka-Ama. meaning Our Land in Kashaya Pomo.  Situated next to the Russian River and just over an hour north of the Bay Area, in 1972 it was garnered into collective Native American stewardship.  In 1969 a group calling themselves ‘Indians of All Tribes’ occupied Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay, interpreting the provisions of the Treaty of 1878 between the government and the Sioux as giving Indians the rights to surplus federal property.  Inspired by this occupation and similar movements, a young group from the local area occupied and laid claim to the 125 acres of federal land which had previously operated as a CIA broadcast & monitoring station and later as a cattle ranching lease.  After a few years of community support through arrests and trials, the application on behalf of the new non-profit organization was approved and victory declared: Ya-Ka-Ama Indian Education and Development (501c3) was born.  The mandate of its founders and continuing membership is to encourage and foster educational, employment, social, economic, and cultural development for Native Americans, and subsequently, to develop a more cohesive, informed, and self-sufficient Indian community.[1]

We of Buckeye began to talk with the Ya-Ka-Ama Council, currently composed of eight members from local Pomo tribes, opening a dialogue about the primitive skills movement as we know it, and our desire to initiate projects of mutual benefit while organizing a week long campout in the style of Backtracks events.  Lucky for us, a gathering like this fit into their mandate and the setting was ripe for collaboration.  They approved the building of traditional-appearing structures, and we offered a renovation of the existing kitchen building & outdoor stage.  Early in the venture we went to Rattlesnake Rendezvous in the Bay Area, to solicit support from the local PrimitiveWays crew, who have been practicing primitive technology for decades.  It was a great boon to have the local voice of experience behind us throughout the whole undertaking.  Once underway, we appreciated the support & counsel of instructors living & traveling in California, as well as from veterans at Echoes in Time and Wintercount.

We formed Sunseed LLC to oversee Buckeye and projects that grow out of it.  We seek to create a village atmosphere, inspired by the familial & all-ages aspect of other gatherings.  This is foundational to the vision of Buckeye, supporting the concept that primitive technologies were & are circulated from the heart of communities, and that the spirit of tribe will help ensure the continued transmission of these living arts. We support a bridge for sharing skills and culture with Indigenous peoples, and endorse the revitalization of existing tribes.  The fact that all of us come from a history of primitive technology at some juncture in our ancestry has been a prime starting point for dialogue, whilst we acknowledge the deeply rooted history of tribes native to this continent, the recent invasion from the east, and the nascent opportunity for collaboration & healing.  We hope Buckeye can be a nexus for cultural networking, as California seems a ripe locale in which to cross-pollinate with other related movements, to rekindle and integrate our collective ancestral legacies.

We held the first annual Buckeye Gathering at Ya-Ka-Ama, near Forestville, CA, from May 2-8, 2010, dubbing it ‘traditional arts and primitive living skills’.  The land itself varies from open meadows to woodlands, with a range of elevations & exposures as well as plenty of wildlife & water.   Plant diversity is high – the forest understory of native Honeysuckle, Manzanita, Poison Oak, Bracken Fern, and Thimbleberry rises to a canopy of Bay Laurel, Valley Oak, Douglas Fir, Coastal Redwood, and Madrone.  The Riparian meadows are graced with Elderberry, Berkeley Sedge, Willow, Mugwort, Black Walnut, and native bunch grasses.  It’s about half an hour from the Pacific coast, in one of the most prolific areas of marine biodiversity in the world.


During the weeks leading up to Buckeye, volunteers, organizers, and worktraders poured out bountiful sweat to prepare for our event and to help revitalize the land.  In recent decades the large, circular arbor at Ya-Ka-Ama (photo at right) has hosted various tribes’ dancing and cultural events.  To provide shade throughout the sunny(!) week we replaced the aging Douglas Fir support poles on the existing central arbor, and thatched the circular structure with fir boughs and the proliferous Scotch Broom.  During the gathering, parachutes (‘jellyfish’) erected for shade became supplemental as folks gravitated under the circular structure which has been thatched at various times during it’s history.  The day before student arrival, a small herd of previously elusive feral pigs ran through this arbor and straight to our shooting range, where Tim Hart the archery teacher was drinking his morning coffee.  That was all she wrote, and it was a tasty story.  Incidentally, our cook Nicole Lobue focuses on local, organic (delicious) food, which certainly contributed to the bright look in folks’ eyes all week.

That same Saturday, a number of local Native groups came out to the land and spent many hours dancing, a real treat for teachers and organizers, and our collaboration was underway.  On the evening of our first day with students, local Pomo elder Lorraine Laiwa was kind enough to join us and contribute traditional song and prayer to the opening ceremonies, with one of our instructors, Ed Willie (Pomo, Walaiki, Wintu, Paiute), on the clapper, a musical instrument played by a number of California tribes.  Lorraine is an elder of the Manchester/Point Arena Band, as well as an Indian Child Welfare Act advocate and Director of the Indian Child & Family Preservation Program.  The tone was set…

Bark House (‘gahwa. ?acha’ in Kashaya Pomo)

Our classes ranged: firemaking, cordage, wood/bone/stone tools, basketry (a deep CA tradition), hide tanning, pottery, tracking, ocean harvest, fiber arts, nature awareness, knapping, whole animal processing, weapon making and use, musical instruments, wild foods, herbal medicine, stargazing, etc.  Caleb Soltau and Thaddeus Koster undertook the building of a bark house (‘gahwa. ?acha’ in Kashaya Pomo) of the style that was used for shelter by several different California tribes.  Kimberley Cunningham-Summerfield (Tsalagi, adopted Miwok) led the construction with her experience from the Yosemite Valley.  They harvested Douglas Fir onsite for poles, wrapped them with local wild grape vines, and covered them with Redwood bark (photo left).

Cob Oven

The bark was traditionally harvested from old growth, a few years after the tree fell and the bark loosened from the trunk.  Some histories show that when Europeans began cutting Redwoods en masse, more bark was available and bark houses became more common.  Kiko Denzer came down from Oregon to lead a weeklong class resulting in the creation of a cob oven (photo right) which will spend it’s life at Ya-Ka-Ama.  The oven cooks with retained heat after fires have warmed the clay, sand & straw structure.  It was built on top of recycled concrete tubes and continues to make great pizza to this day.  Sarah Matzar and Martina Sajvin came up from Guatemala to share the backstrap loom weaving they do with three generations of the women in their family, and brought a vibrant splash to the arbor.  Steven Edholm and Tamara Wilder offered a popular class in “Parfleche”, a term used to describe an art form that originated as a Plains & Plateau Indian tradition.  These sewn or folded rawhide containers are decorated by painting with earth pigments and sealed with a substance such as the slime from prickly pear (Opuntia) cactus pads.  Before the final hair scraping and cutting out of individual projects, the painted elk hide made for a beautiful group canvas (below).

Painted Elk Hide Group Canvas

Pomo Dance

In the evenings when we weren’t listening to and playing music around the fire, there were discussion groups on hide tanning (a well experienced panel) & sustainable harvest, and a local Pomo dance group one evening (photo).  The raffleeach night gained a life of it’s own, and thanks to generous donations raised enough money to offer eight scholarships to Native youth in 2011 – this year scholarships supported three young folks who came out from the Taos Pueblo, New Mexico.  The Arizona gents ran a high-spirited trade blanket one night that drew substantial scope and depth, and showcased a collective readiness to place real value on trade economy.  In addition to their basketry class, Julia and Lucy Parker (Kashaya Pomo, Coast Miwok, Mono Lake Paiute, Yosemite Miwok) helped orchestrate a moving closing circle on the last day of Buckeye, inhabiting as they do an important place in California at the intersection of Native culture and traditional skills.
When the dust cleared, it all felt rather magic, with contributions from a wide team: Chaska Adams, Geneva Hickey, Jay Sliwa, Jaymie Cutler, Rusty Davis, Sarla DeGeorge, Thomasen Weinbaum, Timo Granzotti, Velton Fry, and the authors – as well as the wisdom of Steven & Tamara, solicited among others throughout the process.  We got an overall sunny response from instructors and students, who really stepped up to the plate to make it a kindred affair.  By the time this is published we are slated to have signed a three year Memorandum of Understanding with the Ya-Ka-Ama Council to continue to hold Buckeye on their land, starting with May 1-7, 2011.  Each year we hope to build more traditional shelters that draw community interest to the land.  We strive for more whole-process classes & bioregional focus, and hope to evolve into a working model to share skills, harvests, and village spirit.


See – buckeyegathering.net – and – yakaama.org – for photos and full information.  Contact us at califorigin@gmail.com.

This article was penned under the suggestion of SPT board member and Buckeye teacher Norm Kidder.

{photo credits: parfleche-Kay Sparks, dancer Joe Salinas (Kashaya Pomo/Stewart’s Point Rancheria, printed with permission)-Dr. Leland Gilsen, cob oven-Timo, arbor-Sarla, bark house-Caleb)

David Peri, News From Nativc California, March/April 1987