Reflections on Native Wisdom at Pepperwood

By Ben Benson, Cultural Resources Coordinator 


Pepperwood’s Native Advisory Council


Members of Pepperwood’s Native American Advisory Council, from left to right: Clint McKay, Lucy McKay, Christi Gabaldon, and Brenda Flyswithhawks.

When it comes to land stewardship, there are no better teachers than the Native peoples who cared for the Bay Area’s landscapes for millennia. Through proactive management and a beautiful connection to the natural world, they developed an incredible abundance of plant and animal life—so incredible that when people of European descent first laid eyes on Sonoma County and the surrounding areas, they compared it to the Garden of Eden.

So as Pepperwood works towards advancing the health of our region’s land, water and wildlife, it behooves us to seek the guidance of those who have been doing just that for thousands of years. We are fortunate to have garnered the support of esteemed tribal leaders who have become an integral part of Pepperwood through our Native Advisory Council.

The central function of the Council is to bring a legacy of successful environmental relationships and management to Pepperwood. That involves not only the strategies and techniques that were utilized successfully, but it also involves some powerful philosophical elements that involve the relationship of human beings to the land.

Tending the Wild

The Tending the Wild – The Workshop is about sharing with the scientific community the Native science and Native philosophy that was instrumental in creating sustainable habitats in California, since essentially forever.  The workshop will be led by Native American elders, who will share with the scientific community their experience and knowledge as it relates to nurturing the habitats of California.


Pepperwood oaks photographed by Ben Benson.

If we use basket plants as an example, we see that the same specific plant communities—and often the same individual plants—were created and sustained for three or more generations. It is this careful stewardship over time that produces the fibers necessary for what are considered some of the finest and most intricate baskets in the world.

The plant communities that Native Americans relied upon were nurtured in a way that is a kind of pre-agriculture. As a result of the relationship between the Indians and the land, we see a healthy California that we would like to try and create again as best we can.

The presenters at the conference will be experienced weavers who have carried on this traditional knowledge. At the workshop, you’ll have a chance to interact personally with elders who are coming to Pepperwood from all over California.

One of the things that is really powerful about the workshop is that California environmentalism in many ways began in the wrong direction. There was an incorrect assumption that the habitat needed to be left alone. Native American tradition emphasizes nurturing the habitat, guiding the habitat in partnership with nature. What our conference is about in a sense is a new California environmentalism.


Tending the Wild – The Workshop

is June 4th & 5th at Pepperwood
Click here to learn more or register.


Myrtle McKay Chavez (Dry Creek Pomo) harvesting sedge c. 1980 © Scott Patterson

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