State Indian Museum

Date Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

Only 5 percent of California's collection of Indian artifacts is displayed in this 75-year-old adobe museum.

Only 5 percent of California’s collection of Indian artifacts is displayed in this 75-year-old adobe museum.

Just over 75 years ago, the California State Indian Museum opened in downtown Sacramento. Today, it reflects how California has treated its native people, in that the museum is largely overlooked and ignored.

The State Indian Museum, a 4,000-square foot adobe building near Sutter’s Fort (2618 K St.), has always been inadequate to the task of telling the full story of California’s first nations. It was never large enough to display the State’s vast collection of Indian artifacts. Though that deficiency has been made worse by the State’s procrastination in replacing the existing museum.

A new 125,000-square-foot, $150 million museum, to be called the California Indian Heritage Center, was proposed in 1991 and was supposed to open this summer on a West Sacramento site at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers.

It will not. The project is stalled. It lost inertia following leadership changes at California State Parks, redevelopment agency restructuring in West Sacramento, uncertainty regarding responsibilities to clean contamination from the proposed site, and time-worn enthusiasm to see the project through.

Gloria Sandoval, California State Parks (Parks) Assistant Public Information Director writes that “Parks is committed to finding a permanent home for the California Indian Heritage Museum. Parks has been working with the California Indian Heritage Foundation and the City of West Sacramento to acquire the proposed site for the museum that was selected by the California Indian Heritage Task Force.

“The long-term vision of the museum includes the development of a library, archives, tribal treasures, resident artist space, offices, classrooms, an amphitheater, indigenous gardens, trails, public access to the Sacramento River and parking.”

Despite the statement, it’s been 25 years since the new museum was first proposed and 30 since new exhibits were last installed. Supporters say the only thing that might move the project to create a new museum forward, at this point, is executive action by Governor Jerry Brown.

Here’s what Governor Brown should consider.

Completing the California Indian Heritage Center would not only help right a long-festering wrong, but it would identify California as creating one of the most important museums to the American Indian in North America and provide a major new attraction that would become an economic force for the region and point of pride for all Californians.

The State of California has more than 3,000 California Indian baskets in storage, and that’s just the baskets. Presently, only about five percent of the State’s archives of Indian artifacts are displayed in the existing museum. California Indian regalia, weapons, tools, dress, treaties, music, utensils and more remain under wraps, because the museum lacks the space and facilities to display them.

Further, exhibits within the California State Indian Museum haven’t changed significantly since the mid 1980s. They are now showing their age. Though, even when they were first installed, they weren’t state-of-the-art.

At the time the museum’s current exhibits were installed, the California State Railroad Museum, with its life-sized, interactive depictions of California railroading, had already been open for ten years, and museums like the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, Canada and the Burke in Seattle were full of visitors eager to experience dramatically designed and lit environments that inspired veneration for native art, architecture, culture and achievements.

The idea of immersing and engaging visitors in the historical experience was then practiced and understood by the California State Parks, but it was never implemented at the State Indian Museum. Instead, its exhibits of rare Indian dress, ceremonial regalia, baskets, tools and tribes remain largely mounted inside glass boxes with dry descriptions and photographs identifying them.

The artifacts inside the museum’s white-washed adobe walls are important, beautiful and educational (and every Californian should see and understand them to fully understand our collective story), but they fall far short of telling the dramatic history of California’s Indians. They are unanimated and dull in comparison to how we otherwise receive information and are entertained, today.

Contemporary museums like the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC and New York City present the native American story in artistic, reverential and compelling ways. The Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah, OK presents the emotional story of the “Trail of Tears,” the forced removal of people from their ancestral grounds to “Indian Territory.” California has equally beautiful native arts and crafts and as emotionally dramatic a story, but has no museum worthy of its collection and history.

What is missing is the retelling of 10,000 years of California’s human history and how it evolved. Native people estimate that California was once populated by a million or more Indians, who were distributed among 60 major tribes and 300 communities.

In the 100 centuries before the arrival of European explorers, California Indians established distinctive tribal traditions, languages, religions, dress, customs, tools, ceremonies, arts, politics, legends, architecture and music. They intermarried, warred and traded with other tribes, up and down the Pacific coast.

Then, men in search of conquest, salvation, freedom and fortune arrived from Europe and from across the continent, carrying disease, greed and power for which California’s isolated and relatively powerless populations had no immunity or defense.

Thereafter, tribal life was disrupted by illness, missionary settlement, loss of traditional foods (due to the transition of wild lands to farm and range lands), destruction of traditional lands by mining, and state-sanctioned attacks on Indians, and California’s native population declined from over one million to just 30,000 inhabitants.

That is one hell of a story. It is one that should be told, particularly by the State of California.
To help establish the California Indian Heritage Center, write to Governor Jerry Brown. And, to learn more about the State Indian Museum, visit: or

No Pizza, No Fries

Date Wednesday, January 13th, 2016
Banked turns carved into a slope teach skiers to turn intuitively ( John Poimiroo)

Banked turns carved into a slope teach skiers to turn intuitively ( John Poimiroo)

Ski and snowboard instructors are no longer emphasizing pizza, fries and floating leaves to describe skiing and boarding positions. Instead, they’re using specially sculpted slopes to teach skiing and snowboarding, intuitively.

For years, ski instructors would describe the triangular shape of a slice of pizza to instantly communicate how learning skiers should stand to control speed and turn. Previously, this was known as a snowplow turn or stop. “Fries” was also used to describe skiing with skis parallel to each other. While, snowboard instructors described maneuvers as floating leaves, falling leaves and garlands

Terms like these intellectualized what skiers and riders were to do in order to turn or stop. However, those descriptions often made new skiers think more about what they were attempting, rather than feeling.

Terrain-based learning has changed how ski and snowboard lessons are now taught. At at El Dorado County’s Sierra at Tahoe, instructors work with the hill’s grooming crew to sculpt learning areas to make it more intuitive for beginning skiers and riders to grasp the sport.

“A lot of beginners used to take one lesson and quit. When we asked them why they didn’t continue, they told us they got frustrated over not progressing faster,” said John Rice, general manager at Sierra at Tahoe. “We realized we’d put too much emphasis on explaining how to ski or ride, and not enough on helping them feel success, from their first lesson.”

Ryan Thompson, adult program manager at Sierra at Tahoe Ski and Snowboard School, said, “Terrain-based learning has been around forever. Instructors have always used natural contours to help teach… a snow bank beside a run or terrain differences to make it easier to stop or turn.”

The difference is that Sierra’s instructors now consult with the area’s snow groomers to sculpt elements into the area’s learning area so that instructors can use the terrain to speed learning, by feeling what it’s like to do something right.

Sierra begins its students on a slight half pipe, “the kind you see on the Olympics, except it doesn’t have the vertical wall. It has a mellow drop off and flat bottom that guests can slide across with no fear of going too fast, cause the other side will slow them down,” Thompson explained.

Skiers and riders start by walking with one boot attached to a ski or the board and the other free to push them. By doing this, they soon feel the board’s edge and how it holds them to the slope.

Skiers then progress to attaching both skis and walking with them, eventually learning to slide forward into the gentle half pipe and slowing themselves in a gliding wedge position. “We’re not trying to get people to stop,” with this position, said Thompson, “The wedge is more like a breaking position where they learn to glide and slow down. As the lesson progresses, they learn that the wedge also helps them turn a bit easier.”

Once they have the wedge down, they ride the Magic Carpet lift (a flat rubber mat that skiers and riders step onto for an easy ride to the top of Sierra’s learner’s area) where they’re next taken to a large flat area to begin learning to turn.

They then descend the hill by a series of mild switchbacks and banked turns that the area’s groomers have sculpted into the snow. “The switchbacks and banked corners gently persuade them into turns without them having to think much about it.” Thompson said.

Soon, they’re making turns and getting the feel of skiing or riding without a lot of confusing explanations. By the end of a 2.5-hour lesson, most are able to ski down a green run (the easiest at a ski area). Sierra has one that descends 2,000 feet from the top of the mountain.

Children’s ski lessons at Sierra’s Wild Mountain program and snowboarding lessons at its Burton Riglet Park employ a similar progression and sculpted terrain. Jason Albery, children’s program manager at Sierra’s ski and snowboard school said terrain-based learning is all about containment and safety. “So, it’s a lot of speed control.”

“Doing a sideslip or floating leaf on a snowboard creates a lot of resistance against its edge, which is pretty hard on little legs. With terrain-based learning, we see the kids actually turning a bit more and not getting stuck on the heal edge, like we do in normal lessons.”

Terrain-based adult lessons teach by sensation. Similar children’s lessons teach through play. “We almost trick the kids into learning. We’ll set snowballs atop small, brightly colored highway cones, give the kids a small bat and have them knock the snowballs off the cones as they glide by. Pretty much, we’re trying to get them to not think about the movements and let the terrain do that for them. Before they realize it, they’re making the moves and building muscle memory,” said Albery.

Adults feel the turns as they descend the switchback while, at Wild Mountain kids learn to make turns without really thinking about it on the “snake.” It’s the same thing as the adult switchback, only much smaller and more playful. Wild Mountain and the Riglet Park are decorated with foam animals and sculptures used as points to ski or ride toward.

The brilliance of terrain-based learning is that it teaches by doing, not by explaining the physics of skiing or riding. No pizza or fries are consumed, but it’s just like fast food for beginning skiers and riders.

For more about learning to ski or ride, visit

A gentle half pipe automatically stops a learning skier (John Poimiroo)

A gentle half pipe automatically stops a learning skier (John Poimiroo)

A gliding wedge is taught to control speed and turn (John Poimiroo)

A gliding wedge is taught to control speed and turn (John Poimiroo)

Learning skiers and riders step onto a slow-moving Magic Carpet lift. (John Poimiroo)

Learning skiers and riders step onto a slow-moving Magic Carpet lift. (John Poimiroo)

North Lake Tahoe locals, businesses honored at 61st chamber awards

Date Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Stacy Caldwell, CEO of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation — Citizen of the Year Award; and Wally Auerbach, owner of Auerbach Engineering — Distinguished Community Service Award.

North Lake Tahoe locals, businesses honored at 61st chamber awards

Date Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Stacy Caldwell, CEO of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation — Citizen of the Year Award; and Wally Auerbach, owner of Auerbach Engineering — Distinguished Community Service Award.

From Downtown to Yosemite

Date Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – During a recent four-day period, I completely checked out of both Los Angeles and the media-consumption world. During a family trip to Yosemite I went nearly 96 hours without tu