Mechoopda Tribe Desires Greater Outreach and Education About Its Heritage
By: Chris Tavolazzi
Facing forward and bowing, Wallie Clark from the Konkow Valley Band of Maidu participates in a closing ceremony at the 2011 California Indian Conference at Chico State. Credit Kathleen McPartland
Long before the first cornerstone of Chico State was laid, the Mechoopda people were the stewards of this land. The native people of Chico lived, played, ate, and dreamed here for centuries before John Bidwell's arrival.
“We're here basically because they're not,” said Professor Jesse Dizard of the Department of Anthropology.
The indigenous people of the Chico valley were forced from their land, and memories of that relocation run deep, Dizard said.
In the mid-19th century, John Bidwell founded the
city of Chico, and the native people were driven out. Their land was taken by force, and many Native Americans died in the process. Chico State is now built on that land.
“I want people to know sometimes that this is Indian land,” said Ali Knight, secretary for the Mechoopda tribe. “And I sometimes think the people are kind of happy about natives proclaiming this is their land still.”
Possession of land is a huge thing, and Knight describes herself as having “chip on her shoulder” about what happened to her ancestors, she said.
Mechoopda tribe secretary Ali Knight speaks in front of the Bidwell Presbytarian Church about the history of the Mechoopda people. Credit Joelle Cabasa
She would like to see the University and the Mechoopda tribe come together and be more proactive about educating people about the history of this land, Knight said.
Knight works for Kids and Creeks, an organization that educates children about Chico ecology and the environment. When she teaches about her heritage, she gets a lot of questions.
Kids ask if Native American people still live in teepees or if they live in a regular house, Knight said.
“They ask a lot of questions about primitive living and see ‘native’ as very primitive and undeveloped,” she said.
The stereotyping and lack of information are persistent problems, as is under-representation of Native Americans in education, Knight said.
As of fall 2011, people of Native American heritage made up just 0.8 percent of the population at Chico State. That means only 126 out of almost 16,000 students were of Native American heritage.
The Mechoopda tribe has about 400 members, and about 70 of those live in the Chico area, Knight said.
A group of people follow Mechoopda tribe secretary Ali Knight on the annual Native American Historical Walk. Credit Joelle Cabasa
In 2005, President Zingg signed a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, stating the University will consult the tribe when making decisions that concern the tribe's cultural interests and that the tribe will consider the University's interests as well.
The Northeast Information Center, a Chico State center that identifies and archives tribal sites in the area, works with tribes in 11 counties. Amy Huberland, associate director at the center, is familiar with Native Americans’ desire to protect their heritage.
“The Mechoopda still consider this to be their homeland,” she said
The MOU means the University will try not to do anything—without the Mechoopda's knowledge—that might offend them or affect one of the important sites in their area, Huberland said.
The University has put on various cultural events centered around Native American history in recent years, including hosting the 26th annual California Indian Conference in 2011, which was the most attended conference in the history of the event, she said.
Those who attended had a great time, Knight said.
“As far as the University checking in on that note, they won total big kudo points with not only Mechoopdas but all the tribes in this area,” Knight said.
The intention to reconcile with the tribe through an MOU and an increased desire to consider Native American culture shows Chico is moving in the right direction, but more needs to be done, Knight said.