This morning, I had time to speak with Don Ryberg, tribal council chairman of the Tsi-Akim Maidu, about the bark house that disappeared from a corner on lower Broad Street this past weekend, as Sierra Foothills Report reported earlier in the week. It had been a visible structure in the historic downtown for years.
Don confirmed the bark house had fallen into disrepair, and it also suffered from vandalism. He said he and others had picked up “small bottles of liquor, needles, cigarette butts” and the like from the site. Once a local called Don to ask if he could smoke on the site after Nevada City passed its no smoking ordinance. Don said “No.” The bark house will be repaired and relocated Sycamore Ranch park in Yuba County.
“We’re thinking about putting a bench there,” Don told me. “It would honor a tribal member who has passed (last summer) named Farrell Cunningham.”
Cunningham was a Maidu Indian traditionalist who taught Maidu languages classes in Greenville, Susanville, Nevada City and Auburn, among other places in Northern California, according to his obituary. He died of natural causes in August at his home in Susanville. He was 37.
“A poet and painter who spoke seven languages, Farrell’s thirst for his Native culture launched a life-long quest that began when he was 13,” according to the Indian Country Today. “In 2003, Farrell became a founding member and chairman of the Maidu Summit Consortium, which he described as “a northern Maidu Congress” that united a variety of tribes and organizations.”
Cunningham also was featured in this article in the Christian Science Monitor. “Farrell Cunningham, a Maidu traditionalist who grew up in Indian Valley, is dedicated to revitalizing the native language and culture, believing that this will increase confidence and self-worth among Maidu,” it read.
Don also said he planned to remove the grinding rock that had been with the bark house.
He downplayed the ongoing disagreements between the Tsi-Akim and the Nisenan. “It’s an ongoing debate,” he said.
“Many traditionalists in our Nisenan Tribal membership have been embarrassed by the structure,” Shelly Covert, tribal secretary of the Nevada City Rancheria, had written on her Facebook page. “Also, the signage placed there caused contention as we are Nisenan people, not Maidu. This was and is a Nisenan Tribal landscape. I say these things to open conversation, not to hurt feelings, so please, keep that in mind.”