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Celebrate Native American Culture Year-Round in California

Aug. 15, 2017

Many diverse cultures have shaped California across the centuries, beginning with the Native Americans, whose influence lives on today in communities across the Golden State. California many federally recognized tribes, from the Kumeyaay in San Diego to the Yurok in the Klamath Basin, celebrate this rich heritage by creating a variety of educational museums, events and programs throughout the year.

The largest celebration, California Native American Day, takes place every fourth Friday in September, inviting the public to experience the distinctive cultures – from bird songs to music – of California Indian people firsthand at California State University, San Bernardino. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Indigenous Peoples Day Berkeley, which honors the cultural renaissance of Native people throughout the world in mid-October and offers Native American food, arts and dance presentation. For information on other Pow Wows and other Native American events across California, go here.

Other places and programs honoring Native American history and traditions, include:

North Coast
Experience how one Humboldt County tribe lived at Sumeg Village, a recreated Yurok village at Patrick's Point State Park which includes family houses, a sweathouse, a brush dance pit, tribal dressing, a preparation area and native gardens. The Hoopa Tribal Museum, located in the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation, displays one of the finest collections of Hupa, Yurok and Karuk artifacts in Northern California, from local basketry and jewelry to redwood dugout canoes, tools and ceremonial clothing. Learn about more regional museums and shops celebrating native culture here.

Shasta Cascade
Located in Taylorsville, the Indian Valley Museum boasts a wonderful collection of baskets and tools from the Maidu, a nomadic tribe that would winter in the warmer valley locations and spend summers in the mountains of Plumas and Lassen counties. Each May the Heart K Ranch honors them with a cultural event, which includes a guided hike.

High Sierra
The Sierra Mono Museum south of Yosemite National Park in North Fork features the largest displays of Mono Indian basketry in California, as well as many artifacts donated by the tribe, such as weapons, traditional games, ceremonial items, tools and beaded crafts.

North Coast
The native Pomo people settled thousands of years ago in Lake County near beautiful Clear Lake and the volcanic Mount Konocti – a sacred site for the tribe. The Historic Courthouse Museum in Lakeport houses an impressive collection of Pomo baskets, stone tools, arrowheads and other ceremonial items. The Tallman Hotel, originally built in the 1890s, in Upper Lake, provides a great base for visitors interested in exploring Pomo culture.

San Francisco Bay Area
The California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Santa Rosa teaches the public about the history, culture, and contemporary life of California Indians through educational and cultural activities. Thanks to the Wappo Indians in what is now Napa Valley’s Calistoga, visitors today enjoy the region’s famous mud baths. The tribe discovered the natural mineral springs and mud and found them to be therapeutic, building huts around them for ceremonial use to clean the body and spirit.

Central Coast
Santa Barbara pays tribute to the Chumash Indians at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History with the Chumash Indian Hall exhibition, one of the largest collections of Chumash artifacts in the world. Tribal members and descendants make a 21-mile journey each September in an authentic tomol across to the Channel Islands National Park, where visitors greet them on a former Chumash village. Learn more about the tribe’s history at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, which includes an authentic tomol. Morro Bay’s Museum of Natural History features a full-sized replica of a Salinan tule boat, which were used for hunting and fishing, and offers educational talks. On the coast, the iconic Morro Rock is a California Historical Landmark that only the Salinan Indian Tribe of Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties are allowed to climb. Indigenous to the Central Coast, the Salinan Tribe has been climbing Morro Rock twice a year for centuries to perform religious ceremonies.

Los Angeles County
The Autry Museum of the American West’s American Indian Arts Marketplace, the largest annual Native arts fair in Southern California, features 200 Native American artists offering everything from sculpture and mixed mixed-media works to plays. This year, the fair occurs Nov. 11–12, 2017. The Autry’s ongoing California Continued exhibit shares how traditional ecological knowledge gained through centuries of experience can help present-day residents care for the environment.

San Diego County
San Diego's Barona Cultural Center & Museum – the city’s only museum on an Indian reservation dedicated to the perpetuation and presentation of the local Native American culture – displays handmade pottery, reed baskets, paintings, arrowheads and other artifacts dating as far back as 10,000 years. Other museums including Native American history include the Museum of Man, the Heritage of the Americas Museum and the Sycuan Cultural Resource Center and Museum. California’s American Indian & Indigenous Film Festival takes place Nov. 2-4, 2017 on the campus of Cal State San Marcos and at Pechanga Indian Reservation.

The Agua Caliente Cultural Museum in Palm Springs – the first Native American museum to be part of the Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program – aims to inspire people to learn about the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and other Native cultures through exhibitions, collections, research and educational programs. Cultural events include Native storytelling, traditional bird singing and dancing, as well as a three-day film festival. Hikers can also explore the tribe’s heritage at Indian Canyons park, where tribal rangers guide guests and talk about the area’s history, flora and fauna.