As the fire crackled and smoke wandered around the campfire, Yurok tribal elders told ancient stories that have been passed down for hundreds of generations (as well as contemporary anecdotes of local events). They shared their stories of individuals who did remarkable feats (and stupid mistakes) and shared children’s stories about coyote and salmon. This was the setting that kicked off the first Northcoast Intercultural Skill Share Gathering that was held at Redwood Acres fairground in Eureka that brought together the Permaculture, Homesteading and Tribal communities of the California Northcoast.
Modeled on a very successful grassroots event that takes place in Mendocino every Summer called the Not-so-simple-living-fair, the Northcoast Intercultural Skill Share was designed to bring together different Northcoast cultures and communities to share our skills and know-how, dance together, share traditional local foods and to celebrate our unique traditions. The focus of the event was bringing together the Permaculture, Homesteading and Tribal communities of the Northcoast – to share a weekend together learning each other’s skills, technology, techniques and customs of different cultures of the Northcoast – both modern and ancient. Throughout the past year, efforts were made to get buy-in from the local tribes and at the time of the event and representatives from five different tribes of the Northcoast and Oregon were represented in the event.
Beginning with a community potluck hosted by Transition Humboldt, the Friday campfire with story telling, drumming and singing until 1 AM set the stage for a weekend of stimulating interactions among local experts in the fields of permaculture design, ancient and traditional indigenous skills, homesteading know-how and specialties such as ethanol fuel production, off-grid living and financing alternative energy projects.
On Saturday, the Intercultural Skill Share kicked off with a water ceremony blessing waters from around the region shared in a ceremonial bowl that was displayed during the entire event (at the closing ceremony, the water was used to water plants on the site). A traditional Wiyot blessing was offered by Cheryl Snyder, the Chairwoman of the Wiyot tribe. Later that night, the Wiyot traditional tribal dancers performed a demonstration of the brush dance – a healing dance for a young child.
The gathering featured two simultaneous events during the weekend – the first Northcoast Intercultural Skill Share Gathering and the 9th annual Sustainable Living Expo that featured vendors and exhibits from local permaculture, alternative energy and green businesses as well as local non-profit and community groups. Displays at the Expo ranged from mushroom growing kits to homemade jams and preservatives made from local berries and fruits.
In the skill share event, over twenty workshops were offered each day in seven program areas – Food and Farming, Energy & Transportation, Permaculture, Health & Wellness, Self-reliance & Homesteading skills, Tribal & Ancient skills, animal husbandry and special ongoing workshops including construction of a cobb oven, acorn preparation and making construction quality bricks from “blue goo” clay.
Workshop presenters included local permaculture experts, representatives of five different local tribes, alternative energy practitioners, and homesteaders who have “lived the dream” in Humboldt. Over 200 people attended and participated in this first-ever event and were all stoked by the range of knowledge and the skills demonstrated at the event. Among the over 40 workshops over the weekend that were presented were the following:
- Dan Mar of High Tide Permaculture presented on how rainwater catchment, earthworks and soils combine to create a passive and regenerative living system. This permanent installation at Redwood Acres demonstrates how an integrated design approach is key to community resiliency. Presented by High Tide Permaculture, Samara Restoration, Biovortex and The Local Worm Guy.
- Local Permaculture expert Levon Durr taught the skills one would need to successfully grow edible mushrooms on hardwood logs. In this workshop, participants learned about wood selection, mushroom species, inoculation techniques, and the process of achieving successful mushroom fruiting. This easy method of mushroom cultivation is a great way to grow nutritious, protein-rich food for local families. Whether one is interested in backyard cultivation or market production, this introductory class covered the bases.
- Stephanie Wood is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Tribe in Oregon and a 7th generation basket weaver. She taught some of the most popular workshops on such skills as how to make a traditional Chinook berry gathering basket using shaved cedar, using cattail and hemp cordage, making traditional Kalapuya Cattail mats, using cattails, making cattail flat bag necklaces and using cedar and tule, students learned how to make a flat basket to hang on a wall
- A traditional salmon barbecue (traditional Northwestern tribal preparation and cooking of salmon) was demonstrated and workshop attendees learned how to prepare salmon and cook it over a pit fire and, best of all, got to share the final product at dinner later that evening.
- Local permaculture expert Kathleen Lee presented a workshop on how to use local fruits and honey for winemaking. The workshop addressed the collection, preparation, ingredients, equipment and the process of small-scale production of fruit wines and mead, from one to five gallon batch sizes.
- Bethany Stafferi & Dessa Gunning presented a workshop on rescue remedies with native plants explaining how locally found plants can provide remedies for many common ailments from treating skin rashes to headaches.
- A representative of Ygrene, a PACE financing agency, explained how PACE (Property Accessed Clean Energy) can fund energy and water improvements on your home or business. Humboldt and Mendocino counties have both passed PACE enabling legislation in most of the cities and unincorporated county area, thus enabling homeowners and businesses to take advantage of this unique program that was initially developed in Berkeley and Sonoma. PACE now provides financing for water projects (including rain catchment systems, zeroscapae landscaping and water-conserving appliances) and earthquake retrofitting. All financing does not require credit check of homeowners and can be financed over 20 years.
After two days of intensive learning and sharing, great food and music, the Northcoast Intercultural Skill Share gathering closed with all the participants forming a circle, making prayers for gentle rain and closing the event by sending all members on their way with a blessing.
It’s been raining ever since…