Russians and Kashia Indians gathered at Fort Ross State Historic Park on Saturday for an "opening blessing" of the 200-year anniversary of the historic Russian settlement.
The ceremony, which brought together elders of the Kashia band of Pomo Indians and the Russian consul general of San Francisco, sought to evoke the first encounter between the tribe and Russian and native Alaskan settlers.
"I hope this is the...renewal of a relationship that was established 200 years ago," said Vladamir Vinokurov, the consul general, after he was given an elaborate handmade Native American necklace.
The ceremony kicked off a series of events this year aimed at commemorating the history of Fort Ross. Events include planned San Francisco and Santa Rosa performances of a 30-year-old Russian rock opera about a love affair between a Russian nobleman and the daughter of the Spanish commandante in San Francisco in the early 1800s.
Kashia tribal members pointed out that during the time the Russians lived among them, their treatment of the Indians contrasted sharply with the way Native Americans were treated by Spanish colonists elsewhere in California.
Reno Franklin, vice chairman of the Kashia Pomo tribe, said the Russian fort was often a safe haven for Indians abused by others colonizers.
Park supporters said they hope this year's bicentennial events help spur public-private funding for the park, which now is only open on weekends.
"We're going to have to look at new creative models for funding our open space and parks," Sonoma County Supervisor Efre Carrillo said.
The event also drew State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, and California Parks Director Ruth Coleman.
Mark Dillen, a member of the Fort Ross Interpretive Association advisory board, said "it's crucial we use this year as a launchpad for the future."
In the absence of state money, significant funding for the Fort Ross bicentennial celebration, as well as park infrastructure, is coming from the Renova Group of Companies, a Russian multinational with interests in mining, oil, energy, telecommunications and nanotechnology.
Two hundred years ago, the Russian American Company that came to area and erected Fort Ross, and Renova is helping to preserve that history.
It already has donated $1.2 million for park programs, including a $160,000 donation to replace the roof on a historic Russian structure. The foundation also has contributed $120,000 to refurbish the visitor center, which houses Kashia artifacts and history.
"This is one of the unprecedented examples of cultures coming together, working together," said Olga Miller, chief executive director of the Renova's U.S. representative officer and head of the Renova Fort Ross Foundation.
Almost three years ago, the Russian government wrote to then California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asking him to consider the historic value of Fort Ross.
The park is now essentially closed half the calendar year, said Sarah Sweedler, executive director of the Fort Ross Interpretive Association.
The money that Renova and other corporate sponsors, including Chevron, donate is helping to preserve the park, said Sweedler. But she said the foundation is not looking at such funding as a permanent revenue source.
"I realize this is our 15 minutes of fame," she said. "My job is to keep this park open and thriving long into the future."
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