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Sarah Reith with Victoria Patterson

Posted by Women's Voices
Women's Voices
Women's Voices airs every Monday from 7 pm to 8 pm.
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on Thursday, 09 June 2016 in Uncategorized

Victoria Patterson is everywhere in Mendocino County. She is an anthropologist and ethnohistorian who has been working with local indigenous people for over forty years, collecting their stories and compiling them in syllabi and books and recordings of oral histories. She was instrumental in changing the name of a local landmark from Squaw Rock, which is considered offensive, to Frog Woman Rock, an allusion to its role in a story about Coyote’s wife.

I saw her last at a talk about monarch butterflies, keeping company with a group of students from Dharma Realm Buddhist University, where she is a professor. She also teaches at Mendocino College and is the curator of an exhibit called “Woven Worlds” at the County Museum in Willits. Local indigenous people wove just about everything, from houses to baskets to shoes, when the land was still marshy and flocks of brightly-colored birds filled the sky. It was stirring, listening to Victoria describe a cape made entirely of iridescent mallard feathers.

She is a contributing editor to “News From Native California;” a contributor to a collection of essays called “Women and Power in Native North America,” from the University of Oklahoma Press; and the author of  “Sheemi Ke Janu, Talk from the Past: History of the Russian River Pomo People from Mendocino County,” published in 1981. She is also the editor of “Singing Feather: Tribal Remembrances from Round Valley,” a collection of oral histories published in 1990.  When I interviewed her at her home in the fall, we looked through copies of her own books, Leanne Hinton’s “Flutes of Fire,” about Native American languages, and a case full of her late husband’s photographs of local indigenous people. You can hear her turning the pages as she talks. At one point, the phone rang and she had a brief but intense conversation, which I removed from the recording. It was easy, because her focus is so complete, she picked up the interview exactly where she left off to answer the phone. In this hour, she speaks about the beauty of everyday objects, the history of contradictory policies concerning Native people, and the vanishing languages in a region that is still changing fast.

Follow this link to the interview.

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