Last week, the Round Valley Indian Tribal Council declared a state of emergency in hopes of quelling violence and drug use on the reservation. Community members expressed deep concern for young people, and the need for wholesome activities, adult guidance, and education.
On Saturday, a group of youth and their mentors from five tribal communities, including Round Valley and Cahto, met at the Sonoma County Indian Health Project for a training that combined technology and learning about tradition. Mike Duncan is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes who lives in Sacramento and is the Executive Director of the Native Dads Network, a non-profit that uses traditional teaching to address the results of generations of trauma. When the pandemic, the fentanyl crisis, and large grows all hit tribal communities hard at the same time, he and other tribal leaders came up with an idea for young people to engage with the effects of cannabis and other drugs, social and environmental justice, and how to look for solutions.
He stepped away from a lively editing session for a few minutes to talk about the project on Saturday afternoon. It’s called IMPACTT, which is an acronym for Indigenous Mentors Protecting Ancestral Teachings Team. Through it, Native American youth get video equipment, editing software, and training to go into the community to tape professional-quality interviews. “They’re like reporters,” Duncan explained. “To tell, through the youth perspective, how cannabis and the industry has been impacting their communities in a negative way…it’s going to be beautiful.”
Nikcole Whipple is a Round Valley tribal member and Mendocino County IMPACTT representative. She brought four Round Valley youth to the training on Saturday. She views cannabis as an impediment to clean and sober cultural practices, including ceremonies and the use of traditional healing plants that are native to the area and are not intoxicants. She is looking forward to youth interviews with traditional practitioners like basket makers, healers, and dancers. “I hope that it brings more awareness to our youth who are wanting to learn, and even adults, who want to learn their culture and bring it back, revitalize it, and live in their cultural lifestyles, to know the fallacies behind marijuana,” she said. “That it is not our culture. It’s not historically a natural native plant from California.”
Another goal is to figure out how to respond when cannabis businesses use Native American designs in their marketing materials. “The idea behind it was, we wanted to not just say we’re against the misappropriations,” Whipple explained. “We wanted to hear from our actual community cultural leaders. If we’re seeing our basket designs used on cannabis products, then we are going to ask our elders and our basket makers, can you tell us, as a basket maker…have your elders taught you that cannabis is a part of our culture? And we want to document that.”
Whipple said one business owner, who was using images of traditional materials to advertise cannabis, did remove the design from the product, after a lengthy conversation on Facebook. But it’s still complicated. “It worked out,” she recalled. She has heard from tribal members who supported the call to remove the traditional designs but were leery of speaking out publicly. “I really commend Mike and all of our mentors who do that,” she concluded. The opinion is not entirely unanimous, though. “Because we all come from families and tribes that do support cannabis, and so it could be offensive to them or their lifestyle, their way of living,” she acknowledged.
Meanwhile, the students were wrapping up their first day of training on the equipment they’ll use for the oral history project. Eighteen-year-old Cesario Duncan and 24-year-old Nick Goodwin already had some ideas about their interviews. They’re originally from Round Valley, but they live in Woodland and Sacramento respectively now.
Duncan plans to attend tribal events across the region to interview tribal leaders from various tribes. Goodwin added that, “I have a couple of mentors that I look up to in the Native community. They’re not necessarily from my particular reservation, but they’re kind of aunties and uncles that I look up to. I won’t say names yet, but I’ll definitely look forward to getting a video and an interview out.”
And they are thinking about the historical significance of the work that’s underway. “I feel like this will keep going on, and all the other generations will get to know about this, and what we did for them,” Duncan said.
Goodwin spoke about learning from his grandparents, and the traditional role that grandparents have played in raising children. “We get a lot of our teachings from the older people,” he noted. “So I think it’s a beautiful thing that we can document them from here on out, and get the next generations to follow in our footsteps.”