October 6, 2021--Mendocino County’s Ukiah Unified School District is proud to offer, for the first time ever, a Northern Pomo Language and Cultures class at Ukiah High School. Buffie Schmidt, of the Sherwood Valley Rancheria, serves as instructor to the 40 students she teaches. Both the school district and Schmidt hope this groundbreaking course will revitalize Pomo languages and traditions, and help reconnect native students to a legacy from which they have been disconnected for centuries.
Incorporating a Pomo studies course into the district’s curriculum has taken decades. UUSD began exploring the idea of a native studies course back in 1979, after the United States government passed the Native American Freedom Act in 1978, permitting Indigenous people to legally practice their cultures after centuries of oppression. Now, 43 years later, the course has finally arrived at Ukiah High’s campus.
The Pomo Nations’ languages and cultures originate from tribes in the Clear Lake area over 12,000 years ago; 4,000 years before the Egyptian civilization! Pomos were the oldest and largest Native community in California at the time, with a population of thousands. Each tribe spoke its own dialect, creating 7 distinct languages including Northern Pomo, North Eastern Pomo, Southern Pomo, South West Pomo, and Central Pomo. Beginning in the 1800’s, enslavement and mistreatment by Spanish soldiers, missionaries, European settlers, and gold diggers nearly decimated the Pomo communities. The Pomo Nations' cultures and languages remained dormant for a century.
Schmidt notes that, despite the early settlers’ effort to completely eradicate Pomo cultures, Native people did find a way to keep their ways alive.
The curriculum for the course is a collaboration between Schmidt, who learned Northern Pomo as an adult, and UC Berkeley linguist Catherine O’Connor, who studied dormant languages and recorded native Pomo speakers from Mendocino County back in the 1970’s. O’Connor’s recordings of Sherwood Valley Rancheria’s Edna Campbell Guerro and Pinoliville’s Eleanor Stevenson preserved the Northern Pomo language and serve as a reference guide for Schmidt’s teaching.
Buffie Schmidt’s courageous efforts to revitalize Native culture in Mendocino County benefit the whole community. Native students can now see themselves and their culture represented in the public school curriculum, helping to reconnect them to their roots and build self-esteem. Non-Native students now have an opportunity to learn about Mendocino’s Native cultures rich in traditions, arts, and languages.