The dances and foods of the Kashia tribe will be on display at Fort Ross State Historic Park this weekend, the first time the site has hosted a "Bigtime," a gathering and party involving Native American groups from around the North Coast.
The Metini Native Cultural Foundation organized the event, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, featuring song, dance and traditional food. It is open to the public and costs $15 per car, or $14 for cars including at least one senior.
"We have a rich history" at the Fort Ross site, said foundation founder Billyrene Pinola. "But that has not been told over the years as much as we'd like to have seen."
Metini is the name of a tribal ceremonial site near the fort site, she said.
The event is the first step in a broader effort to emphasize the history and culture of the Kashia, the tribe that occupied an area roughly from the Gualala River to the Russian River for thousands of years before the arrival of Russian fur traders in 1812.
But the Kashia "have really not been intimately involved in the park since the beginning; they have not been that present," Senior State Archaeologist E. Breck Parkman said. This event, therefore, is "a big deal for history."
Historians estimate there were about 1,500 Kashia living in the area when the Russians established the fortified trading post. The Russians enlisted members of the tribe as laborers, and relations between the Russians and the locals was relatively cordial.
The fort was surrounded by dwellings built by the Kashia and members of nearby Miwok tribes, along with Aleuts from Alaska, brought south by the Russians.
"You had this really thriving multicultural community there," Parkman said. "But when the Russians left, it really broke apart."
Under pressure from the Spanish and American settlers who followed the Russians, the Kashia moved inland and eventually settled on a ridgetop reservation, where many live to this day. Pinola said she and others in the tribe were taught the "bad history" of the fort, of exploitation of the native people by the Russians and being forced off their ancestral land.
But last year, Pinola and a small group of other Kashia visited Russia and viewed artifacts collected and sent home by Russians in the 19th century and now on display in the former capital of St. Petersburg. They include ceremonial regalia, baskets, and even preserved samples of food make by the Kashia at the fort.
Pinola said it was a shock of recognition: the artifacts look much the same as ones used today, to the point where the visiting Kashia were able to explain some items that had confounded the Russian curators.
"It was kind of like going back in time, feeling (ancestors') spirit on them or with them," she said.
She came back to California with a desire to show the public that history, and with a greater appreciation of the interconnectedness of all the people who lived at Fort Ross. Kashia women married Russians and Aleuts and went home with them after the Russians left, scattering cousins far across the world.
"I want people to know our history," she said. "It's like a love story."
Not all members of the tribe are so thrilled, however. Saturday's event is not sponsored or sanctioned by the tribal government. Cultural and Tribal Preservation Advisor Otis Parrish said the event is not an authentic representation of Kashia culture or spirituality. He dismissed younger generations in the tribe as the "new age" movement, making up ceremonies as they go along.