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The People from the Top of the Land

Sonoma coast in morning
The morning fog on the Sonoma coast at Fort Ross (Darren Modzelewski photo)
Working with tribal elders from the Winahmah-bahkay-yahchmah (Kashaya) Indians to give voice to their ways of life

We are working with tribal elders from the Winahmah-bahkay-yahchmah [Kashaya] Indian tribe, who have an incredible history to be told. Their interaction with the Russian-American Company, which came for mercantile and agricultural reasons, and the Native Alaskans the company brought with it, are what we hope to bring alive throughout the trail.

Camp life is a nice change from the academic atmosphere of Berkeley. It is engaging in different ways, such as a lecture each morning under the protective canopy of our base camp's redwood stand, and the absolute stillness we lie down to each evening, and awaken to each morning. The physical demands during the day — surveying, walking the trail, checking out a geophysical seismic survey — allow us to put our hands and feet to use in the learning process.

As part of the project, we have been keeping a field journal describing our daily activities, events, lectures, ideas, and thoughts. The journal helps track our interpretations as they happen, and makes it possible for us to reflect later on those thoughts and on how perhaps they've changed.

This summer is a great opportunity for our team to discover and analyze aspects of the Kashaya indigenous population's contact with Russian imperialism, their oral traditions, cultural perseverance, and the effect and changes over time, as seen and supported by the archaeological record. To me, it has also emphasized the interdisciplinary aspects of archaeology, drawing from geological, ethnographic, geographical, ecological, botanical, and semiotic considerations. Perhaps what I have been most impressed with is the growing sense I have of the pervasiveness of cultural narrative and practice.

— Brian

Brian Chen is a fourth-year Anthropology major.