‘We are not just one person, we are many’: The story of the last shaman of the Kashia Pomo Indians

Growing up on the Stewarts Point Rancheria in Sonoma County, friends and family knew Essie Parrish was special.

From the time she was 6 years old, Parrish had visions, dreams, prophecies and an ability to bring people together. These qualities led her to become a revered shaman, or spiritual leader, of the Kashia Pomo Indians, who have inhabited the Sonoma Coast for thousands of years.

Her dreams sometimes gave instructions for curing the sick, performing ceremonies and even prophesied the invention of jet planes and the start of World War II, according to “A to Z of American Indian Women.”

“I had something in my throat to suck pains out with… That power is always near me. But other people can’t see it. I alone can see it,” said Parrish, who was also skilled basket weaver.

Born in 1902 as Essie Pinola, she spent most of her life in Sonoma County. In the 1920s, she established a bilingual language and cultural class for Kashia Pomo Indians.

In the 1950s, she worked with UC Berkeley linguist Robert Oswalt on a dictionary of the Kashia Pomo language. She was also featured in several documentaries about Pomo culture.

In January 1968, Parrish and her husband, Sidney, greeted Sen. Robert F. Kennedy when he visited the Stewarts Point Rancheria.

She gave Kennedy a basket she weaved years earlier, but refused to sell. She admired the late President John F. Kennedy so much that she said “now I know why I have been saving the basket,” according to a Press Democrat report.

Parrish died in 1979. She had 13 children, many of whom remained in the area and continued her teachings.

“The things we do, they speak of who we are, the families we’re from, and about our relatives, too. We are not just one person, we are many,” Parrish said to one of her daughters, according to the Fort Ross Conservancy. “In just one there is the whole tribe and our ancestors, too.”

See photos from Parrish’s life in the gallery above.

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