Calling the question on Kule Loklo

08/04/2021

Questions. So many questions. 

In preparing this piece, I reached out to many individuals and institutional representatives, asking what they see as the past, present and future of Kule Loklo, the roundhouse and Big Time. Each time I spoke with a stakeholder, I came away with a new, somewhat wrenching understanding and found my own perspectives seriously challenged.  

We’re taught in anthropology to declare our biases when composing ethnographic studies. Here’s mine. I’ve been active in Kule Loklo affairs for the past four decades. This includes field trips with my young students (we helped dig out the first roundhouse), volunteering with the Miwok Archaeological Preserve of Marin on workdays and coordinating their Indigenous skills classes with the College of Marin, teaching and taking many of those classes, writing articles, attending numerous Big Times and participating in sacred ceremonies. 

My first hope here is to present various viewpoints on Kule Loklo without prejudicing one over the other. My second reason for writing is to call for a forum of all interested parties to gather round the table and share visions for the future. I see this, in part, as a way to defuse animosities and conflicts that have arisen in past years over the existence and use of Kule Loklo. Big order.  

Kule Loklo has been a jewel in the crown of the Point Reyes National Seashore for over 40 years. Hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the country and the world have relished the opportunity to learn about our First Nation people. I had the honor of attending a solstice ceremony in the roundhouse shepherded by local Indigenous leader, Edward Willie, of Pomo, Wailaki and Paiute descent. Ed was a close friend of the much-loved late park interpretive ranger Lanny Pinola, a Coast Miwok and Kashia Pomo. Lanny, in first opening the doors to the roundhouse, talked about the “Weya,” the life force, the spirit, embodied here.  

At the time, I had been invited to write something for a local newspaper about the ritual, and I asked Ed if it was okay to do so. He not only welcomed my presence, but offered me the opportunity during the storytelling part of the ceremony to pose questions to the circle of participants. Summoning up my courage, I stood before the blazing fire and asked folks: “Why is this ceremony important to you?”  

The responses were very positive. One individual explained, “Here’s the Indian community joining together from all over the Bay Area to share stories, lives, spirit, dance and relationships.” Most spoke of the need for Native people to join together, along with Anglos, in maintaining and recreating spiritual practices. All the comments underscored the sense of sacredness of this ceremonial lodge.

Contrary to the perception expressed when we dug out that first roundhouse, the Miwok are not extinct. Racial injustice caused Miwok families to suppress their heritage as a means of survival, yet families kept their stories and cultural practices alive and well among themselves. Now, in these more enlightened times, we can experience the environmental wisdom and spiritual depth of their ancient lifeway.

The federally recognized Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and the Point Reyes National Seashore share a relationship based on the sovereignty of both nations. Although the park has ultimate authority over Kule Loklo, it’s mandated to privilege the input from FIGR. Yet there are additional organizations and individuals whose voice should be considered and valued. 

These include the Miwok Archaeological Preserve of Marin, the Coast Miwok Tribal Council of Marin, the Marin Museum of the American Indian, the WAKAN community, the Marin American Indian Alliance, the folks from the former Black Mountain Circle, the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin, the Trust for Public Land, the Nicasio Historical Society and innumerable community members both here in West Marin and over the hill. 

The newly organized tribal council is made up of documented Coast Miwok members who are not enrolled in the tribe; they speak for many who follow a traditional sacred and cultural practice.

People at both FIGR and the park want Kule Loklo to prosper well into the future; the devil in the details centers on whether to keep it as a sacred ceremonial site or transform it into an interpretive center that underscores not just the past but the present-day reality of Miwok people, and how that all should be packaged.

Many if not most of the secondary players I talked with prefer a continuation of the beneficial role Kule Loklo has offered for so long now, including as the location of the annual Big Time celebration. 

So, how do we proceed? Perhaps the best way is for all interested parties to join together in a safe forum that encourages the expression of our various perspectives. The park may be best situated to call such an assembly, and its spokesperson has indicated an openness to doing so.

The last thing West Marin needs is another major conflict. Michael Harner, a noted authority on shamanism, once explained to me that people often get into interpersonal and inter-group conflict over jealousies, perceived slights and territorial disputes, and that’s when “poisoning” rears its ugly head. If left to fester, these conflicts often lead to undesirable outcomes. 

It’s time to bury the proverbial hatchet. We are all seeking the greatest good for Kule Loklo, but we all need the opportunity to be heard and our interests seriously considered in any final resolution. Big work.

Muk ah am ka i ni iko: We are all related.

 

John Littleton is a retired teacher with a background in anthropology. He lives in Point Reyes Station.