As a result, the county Historical Society’s board recently voted unanimously to rescind a more than 10-year-old endorsement of the Tsi-Akim Maidu and is acknowledging that the Nisenan tribe of the Nevada City Rancheria are native Indians of Nevada County.
The Historical Society also noted that its 2000 endorsement of the Tsi-Akim was used to gain leverage for similar resolutions, including one from the county supervisors. The supervisor’s ensorsement — described as “weighty” by the Nisenan — still stands for now.
“The decision was important to the Nisenan of the Nevada City Rancheria, in efforts to preserve its heritage and autonomy,” according to the group.
I spoke to Shelly Covert, one of five governing members of the Tribal Council. I also spoke with Historical Society President Daniel Ketcham and reviewed a copy of the report, which is here: NCHS.
Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribal Chairman Don Ryberg disagreed with the historical society’s decision. “Their research isn’t what it should be as far as I’m concerned,” he told me in an interview.
He also downplayed its importance. “The tribe is strong right now and getting stronger, working in this community and others also,” he said.
The Historical Society stood by its findings. “Our objective is education,” Ketcham said.
For years, the Nisenan have argued that the indigenous people of Nevada County are incorrectly labeled as Maidu instead of Nisenan.
Though the label Maidu is still used widely in North America academia, Maidu is actually a gross oversimplification of a very complex division of smaller groups, the Nisenan have argued.
It its investigation, the county Historical Society agreed, writing, “The common perception that Nevada County is part of ‘Maidu’ territory is inaccurate. . . In fact, the term ‘Maidu’ refers to a very large and diverse linguistic unit.”
After interviewing representatives from both groups, it concluded: “The Tsi-Akim produced no verifiable evidence or documentation that any of its members can trace their genealogical roots to historic Nevada County.
“Without such evidence, the NCHS cannot support the contention that Nevada County is the Tsi-Akim’s (or the Taylorsville Rancheria’s) traditional territory. The claim that their ancestors are buried in historic Nevada County remains unsupported.”
In his discussion with the Historical Society committee last August, Ryberg stated that the “Tsi-Akim” name was assumed by members of the Taylorsville Rancheria of Plumas County to avoid use of their “white man’s name.”
Ryberg further stated that membership in his tribe was open to anyone in 13 surrounding counties who were acceptable to the Tribal Council, including “non-Indians,” the report said.
The historical society made it clear that it “did not investigate, nor reach any conclusion, as to the merits of either group’s quest for federal recognition.”
“It is understandable why the NCHS Board of Directors gave its original endorsement,” the report said. “Recollections of those present in 2000 suggest that the Board believed Don Ryberg had a direct genealogical connection to other, well-known Indians of Nevada City, like Louis Kelly.”
It added: “The board did not critically examine the resolution, but rather adopted it as a gesture of good will. In retrospect, this committee now sees that was a mistake.”
A newly renovated Nisenan Indian collection has been housed at the Firehouse No. 1 Museum since 1949. Tribal heirlooms and artifacts can be seen at the museum.
“The Nisenan Indians are the native Indians of Nevada County, having lived here long before the arrival of European settlers,” according to the museum’s website. “While the Nevada City Rancheria (reservation) no longer exists, the Nisenan people still live here. The tribe continues to be active in the community as they have for the past 200 years. They are well represented at the museum.”