The original human inhabitants of the Tehachapi area are a group of American Indians known as the Nuwa or Kawaiisu, a member of the Paiute family of tribes. There has been considerable effort in recent years to document and preserve the culture and language of this resourceful people, and these collaborative efforts have just been recognized by the State of California with the presentation of a Governor’s Historic Preservation Award.

This prestigious award was given to honor a variety of programs referred to collectively as the “Kawaiisu Project,” and included the Handbook of the Kawaiisu, language teaching and the Kawaiisu Language and Cultural Center, the Kawaiisu exhibit at the Tehachapi Museum and the Tehachapi Heritage League, the Kern Valley Indian Council, which is striving for federal tribal recognition, and other contributions.

A group of us Kawaiisu members and advocates traveled to Sacramento to receive the award at the historic Leland Stanford Mansion on November 17. Governor Jerry Brown himself was overbooked and couldn’t present the awards he had signed, but they were given to honorees by Ruth Coleman, the popular and highly-regarded Director of California State Parks.

Inside the beautiful and opulent Stanford Mansion, the two-hour invitation-only ceremony summarized the accomplishments of each of this year’s 26th annual Governor’s Historic Preservation Award winners. A digital presentation was narrated by Wayne Donaldson, the State Historic Preservation Officer, and then honorees were given their awards.

The award for the Kawaiisu Project includes this statement: “This rich culture is undergoing an active revival and resurgence fueled by recent efforts to teach their language, practice traditional arts, and gain federal recognition. The Handbook of the Kawaiisu [authored by Harold Williams and Alan Garfinkel] received a seed grant from California State Parks in 2006 and is the basis for the Kawaiisu Exhibit, housed at the Tehachapi Museum [in the Milano Gallery], which includes artifacts from private collections and is the first large exhibit dedicated to the history and contemporary culture of the Kawaiisu Indians.”    

Among those preservation efforts that also received honors were the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant in San Diego, the San Nicolas Island Archeological Field School Program, the Bayview Opera House in San Francisco, and two historic buildings that were refurbished in Richmond.

After the ceremony, delicious hors d’oeuvres were served to guests in an elegant drawing room of the 19,000 square-foot, four-story mansion, which was built between 1856 and 1872. Those who wished could then take a docent-led tour of the mansion, which California State Parks acquired in 1978 and recently reopened after a 14-year, $22 million restoration and rehabilitation.

It has taken the combined efforts of many, many people to preserve and enrich Kawaiisu culture and it hasn’t been done for awards or recognition, but it was fitting and appropriate that these ongoing contributions were recognized by the State of California.

Hinigud hu’ut no-miz tavi (Have a good week). 

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