Travelers to Russia gather for a photo in front of the bus that will take them to the airport for their trip September 6, 2012.

Sonoma County group in Russia exploring North Coast roots

A group of Fort Ross State Historic Park volunteers, Sonoma Coast Indians and government officials, including embattled Supervisor Efren Carrillo, arrived in Russia on Friday for a 14-day trip to trace the roots of early settlers on the North Coast.

The trip is an outgrowth of the celebration this year of the 200th anniversary of the founding of Fort Ross by the Russians, said Sarah Sweedler, president and chief executive officer of the Fort Ross Conservancy, a nonprofit that supports the state park.

The tour is not an official delegation, and the cost — about $4,000 per person — is being shouldered by the participants themselves, she said.

"There are no public funds from state parks. It is a self-funded trip," Sweedler said.

The 23-member group left San Francisco International Airport on Thursday and flew to St. Petersburg, where they were scheduled to view Kashaya Pomo Indian artifacts collected near Fort Ross in 1841 and visit the Hermitage museum.

Later, the group will travel by train to Moscow, visit with Russian government officials and meet up with state Sen. Noreen Evans, who is leaving for Russia on a separate trip Monday as part of an international delegation of legislators. Evans is paying for her own travel costs, an aide said.

Carrillo is also paying his own way. "No public funds will be used to pay for my travel expenses for this trip," Carrillo said in an automatic out-of-office reply to email messages sent to his office.

The supervisor will not stay the entire 14 days, said his aide, Susan Upchurch. He is scheduled to return on Sept. 14, missing one Board of Supervisors meeting, she said.

"They invited him to go," Upchurch said. "We waited until after the primary and accepted the invitation. It is good for us to have relations with them, it is part of goodwill."

For the third straight day, Carrillo did not respond to requests for comment Friday about his arrest on a felony charge of battery following a fight in San Diego.

Carrillo has not spoken to the media since news of the Labor Day incident surfaced. He issued a statement that he was defending women friends when the 2:10 a.m. fight occurred.

His fellow travelers on the Russian trip supported Carrillo, who is free on bail.

"We read about it in the paper," one member, Martina Morgan, said Thursday as she was preparing to depart. "I thought, &‘He's human. Humans make mistakes.'"

For Morgan and the six other Kashaya Pomo Indians on the tour, the trip is the culmination of much planning and fundraising to visit ancestors of people who settled their native land.

"I'm very excited and nervous at the same time," said Morgan, who lives on the tribe's reservation near Stewart's Point. "It's going to be a historic trip."

Another tribal member waiting for the airport bus in Petaluma on Thursday morning said her great-great-grandmother often talked about the Russian settlers.

Billy Rene Pinola of Windsor said some members of her tribe went to Russia in the 1840s and never returned. She was anxious to see tribal artifacts at the Kunstkamera Museum in St. Petersburg.

"I never thought I'd be the one in the tribe to go," Pinola said. "It's bittersweet."

Organizers said they would spend five days in St. Petersburg before going to Moscow. There, they would visit the Duma, go sightseeing around Red Square, attend a conference with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian Academy of Science.

Robin Wellman, an interpretive specialist for Fort Ross State Historic Park, said it was the first time the Kashayas will be welcomed by Russia. The trip corresponds to the bicentennial of the founding of Fort Ross in 1812.

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