TWAC Bay Area will be held on unceded Onastis territory (Onastis means “people who speak plainly” or “Outspoken People”). The exact spot of TWAC Bay Area will be held on the ancestral land of the Catahoula band. Settlers call this land pope valley (in napa valley county), which is 20mins east of Calistoga, CA. Napa valley county is believed to be one of the oldest inhabited areas in North America. There is, however, no longer a land-based tribe in the area, due to historical mass relocations (mostly to lake valley county and the dry creek rancheria reservation) and detrimental exposure to diseases. (See their history page here). Other bands in the Onastis tribe are called the Mishewal Wappo, Mutistul Wappo, Mayakmah Wappo and the Pomo.
The Onastis lived in a wide area of the napa valley, included St. Helena, formerly known as Talahalusi (Beautiful Land). Archaeological surveys indicate 10,000 years of uninterrupted habitation. “It was a paradise – a cultivated paradise where one only had to reach out their hand to eat. A place rich in beauty, water and food,” stated the oral history of Native American Elder Jim Big Bear King. The Onastis lived in small settlements on the valley floor, moving seasonally to camps in the mountains. The largest villages had up to forty houses, each usually occupied by two families, and one or two sweat lodges (a ceremonial sauna).
They lived peacefully in pole houses, using clamshell beads and magnesite cylinders for money and jewelry. They processed obsidian into shafts, spears and arrowheads, which were used for hunting and export. Acorns, perennial grasses, wild berries, freshwater shellfish, salmon, fowl and game were their diet. These hunter-gatherers lived in a rich environment with a capacity for a dense, socially complex population of 35,000-40,000 people. They established large permanent villages with nearby seasonal resource and task-specific camps.
After the Spanish decided the whole place belonged to them in the early 1800s, they renamed the Onastis tribe the “Guapo”, meaning daring, brave or handsome. In phonetic English, “Guapo” came to be pronounced “Wap-poe” – which white settlers used. An English doctor, Edward Bale, was given the entire Upper Napa Valley by the Mexican government in 1841.
The Wappo became known for beautiful fine-work baskets made of sedge with redbud and bulrush decorations. Feathers, clamshell and abalone beads decorated their gift and ceremonial baskets and the weaving was so precise that baskets were watertight. Women created the finer, more artistic baskets, while men traditionally made rough workbaskets for gathering and fishing from unpeeled willow.
See The Suscol Intertribal Council’s website to get a more detailed account of the history of the land and what’s happening now in the area.
At the beginning of the year, we reached out to the Suscol Intertribal Council to ask permission to use this piece of land (See the side bar for more info on the Council). The director said that our request was largely symbolic and that asking the tribal leaders in the area for permission would upset them. She thanked us for reaching out and said that she doesn’t see anything wrong with us using the land although she couldn’t give us permission because she was not from that tribe. She said for us to do a few things before we use the land. The first is to go up there, make an offering (sage, bread, tobacco or what we pray with) and ask the land, trees, and mountains for permission. She said if we get a sign like a bird flying by or a swift breeze then we have our permission. She also said that we should pray altogether and ask the land, trees, and mountains for forgiveness for the past, the present and the future. She said to say sorry about the history that was left on this land and if we offend anyone with our stay. She said to send our love and gratefulness for being there. She said to say thank you.
The Suscol Intertribal Council is a community-based, 501(c) 3 organization, founded in 1972 and reactivated in 1992, seeking to bring healing between the existing population and the people who historically inhabited Napa Valley and nearby counties.
The Mission of the Suscol Intertribal Council is to develop and maintain a Native American ‘Suskol House’ in Chiles-Pope Valley, located in the NE corner of Napa County, CA. ‘Suskol House’ will be a sustainable, environmentally-friendly, open space whose living sculpture building will be used for educational outreach as well as preserving and protecting Native American sacred sites and traditions. Suscol Council is dedicated to preserving human rights for indigenous people by linking with other NGOs around the world.
They’re seeking donations for building the Suskol House. Donate here.
Since 1992, Suscol Council has developed local educational outreach programs for public schools (K-14), community clubs, and other organizations. Suscol Council develops contracts with organizations that seek to connect with California tribes or urban Indians. Suscol Council has developed a mentorship program to help California Native people make connections with agencies, foundations and corporations that might be helpful to them.
Suscol Council is located in the Napa Valley, believed to be one of the oldest inhabited areas in North America. There is however, no longer a land-based tribe in this county, due to historical mass relocations and detrimental exposure to diseases.