Celebrations at the state Capitol, UC Davis mark annual California Native American Day

Ceremonies Friday on the west steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento and within a new gallery space on the UC Davis campus mark the annual California Native American Day.

Tribal members will join local and state leaders, lawmakers and organizers at 10 a.m. at the Capitol to mark the hard-won progress for Native American rights, self-reliance and the work ahead while honoring the historical contributions of California Native Americans.

The theme of this year’s Capitol event: “Protecting Our People Through Sovereignty: Past, Present and Future.”

“We’ve made important progress through legislation to better exercise tribal sovereignty in order to best protect our people and our freedoms,” said Assemblyman James Ramos, D-San Bernadino.

Ramos, California’s lone Native American state lawmaker, has penned legislation creating emergency alerts for missing Native Americans and laws to address the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

A cultural heritage pavilion will feature some 80 exhibitors from state and local organizations, arts and crafts vendors, and cultural sharing including traditional drums, bird songs and dancing.

The day marks the journey toward equality, self-reliance and sovereignty and has special resonance for Sacramento County’s only federally-recognized tribe, the Wilton Rancheria, near Elk Grove. Friday marks the 56th year of the state’s Native American Day, roughly as many years as Wilton Rancheria’s arduous half-century fight for federal recognition.

Gorman Museum reopens for 50th anniversary

Two days of festivities will mark the reopening of the Gorman Museum of Native American Art on the UC Davis campus, and there is much to celebrate. The new, more visible, more accessible Old Davis Road location quadruples the size of its longtime mid-campus home to 4,000 square-feet of gallery space.

A noon dedication ceremony greets the new space at 181 Old Davis Road before the doors open at 2 p.m. Friday.

On Saturday, music and artist-led activities are featured noon to 4 p.m., along with vendors and works by an assortment of artists.

This grand reopening marks the Gorman’s 50th anniversary, its own story of resilience rising from its origins in campus Quonset huts a half-century ago, which mirrors California Native Americans’ fight for visibility, dignity and self-reliance.

“It’s a journey of respect and of diligence,” said Gorman curator and executive director Veronica Passalacqua. She and museum director and professor of Native American Studies, Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie (Sin-a-jinny), the acclaimed Seminole-Muscogee-Dine photographer and scholar, have stewarded the gallery for nearly 20 years.

“We’re here and still trying,” Passalacqua said. “We’re always educating people on what Native American art is. These are contemporary artists.”

The celebration extends to the museum’s walls with the debut of the New Collections Gallery, on view through June 15, 2024. The Gorman’s new size accommodates and symbolizes the exhibit’s sweep. The exhibit’s vivid contemporary works hang aside the museum’s near-entire collection of ceramics and pottery, celebrating foundational local artists including Sacramento-born Maidu artist Harry Fonseca.

Tsinhnahjinnie talks of the collected works’ “visual sovereignty.” It’s a powerful image: Native American artists and art reaffirming space and place on ancestral Patwin land in Yolo County.

Three Patwin tribes are federally recognized in the region: the Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community; the Kletsel Dehe Wintun Nation; and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

“Especially with Native history, we’re constantly ripping out our rib cage,” Tsinhnahjinnie told reporters Wednesday before the gallery’s opening. “Sometimes you need a piece that tells a story. Sometimes you need a piece that tells of empowerment. Sometimes you need a piece that reminds you of Native American beauty. Sometimes you need a piece that reminds you of the stories. ... I love this exhibit.”