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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

School Desk Blog: Northern Pomo Language and Culture in Ukiah Unified Schools

Northern Pomo Language classes are now offered at Ukiah High School in addition to Spanish and French!

Angela James, Vice Chairperson of Pinoleville Pomo Nation, reflects, “Our journey of language revitalization of a language that was dormant began at the Pinoleville Native American Head Start program. Master basket Weaver Christine Hamilton (Williams) was the first to introduce the Pomo language to the Head Start program in 1999. In 2012 the Title VI Native American Parent Committee worked with Calpella Elementary School Principal Tina Burrell to begin a pilot program for Northern Pomo Language classes taught by Erica Estrada Pinola. In 2019, while developing a White Bison curriculum for a class at Ukiah High School, myself, Title VI Chairperson Julian Maldonado, and Scott Paulin, Director of Alternative Education, visited Round Valley Unified School District. We met with teacher Kathy Britton, a teacher who was using the White Bison curriculum. During our visit, we were introduced to Cheryl Tuttle, teacher of the Wailaki language at Round Valley High School. Cheryl shared her knowledge and process with us regarding the 4-year language program. Julian and I met with Ukiah High School Principal Gordon Oslund regarding the White Bison program and shared about our trip to Round Valley, and asked what he thought about developing a Northern Pomo Language program at Ukiah High School. Mr. Oslund thought it was a great idea, and the work began in 2018.” 

Our Northern Pomo I curriculum was approved for the 2021/2022 school year, with two sections offered, and the Northern Pomo II curriculum was approved, and classes began this school year. Students taking the two-course sequence meet the University of California admission requirement for two years of study of a Language other than English. Future plans include graduating students with a Seal of Biliteracy in Northern Pomo Language.

Title VI Native American parent committee Chairperson Julian Maldonado Sr. shared, “The Northern Pomo language class at Ukiah High School has been a work in progress for several years. It has been a collaborative effort between Pinoleville Pomo Nation, Ukiah Unified School District, and the Title VI Native American parent committee. I would also like to honor the three Northern Pomo Elders, Elenor Stevenson (Pinoleville), Edna Campbell Guerrero (Sherwood Valley), and Annie Lake (Redwood Valley Rancheria), who allowed linguist Katherine O'Connor to record their conversations, as all three were fluent speakers of the Northern Pomo language, and the students have the opportunity listen to these speakers as part of their classes. Teacher Buffy Schmidt, who is the daughter of Master Basket Weaver Christine Hamilton (Williams), brings our language revitalization full circle as her mother began paving the road at the Pinoleville Native American Head Start Program. She would be so proud to know her vision continues.”

Ninth-grade student, Taylor Feliz of the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians, says, “I am taking this class because I want to learn more about my history and be able to take what I am learning of our people’s language back to my family.” Likewise, 9th grader, Manny Ramirez of Guideville Band of Pomo Indians, shared that he is learning the language and then teaching his younger nieces and nephews some of what he is learning. Taliah Ramos of Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians explained that she is excited to learn more about her culture and the Northern Pomo language because she wants to help keep the language alive and to be able to use the Pomo language to talk to elders.

Instructor Buffie Schmidt shared that, beyond just the knowledge students learn about the Northern Pomo Language, the course provides a step in the healing process for herself, students, and families who see the class as a part of healing the generational trauma of having their language taken away. She is encouraged to see this class as one small part of re-establishing the once-dormant language of her people and watching her students participate in this recovery.

Elsewhere in the district, elementary and middle schools have had the opportunity to learn from cultural presentations organized and delivered through a grant the district partners on with Pinoleville Pomo Nation. 

Principal Chris Francis of Oak Manor School writes, “Oak Manor School is proud to be involved in a program to provide outreach and support for our Native American students and their families. Native Students need their teachers to know where they come from and what makes them unique. Our teachers and staff have begun this journey with the help of community members, including Corine Pearce, Susan Billy, Buffie Schmidt, Anna Rodriguez, Brian Yepez, Corine Scott, and others. We are designing a way for Pomo Culture to be a part of our curriculum. Through this important work, we will find meaningful ways for Pomo Cultural Education to be woven into the future of our educational plan.”

At Big Picture, Ukiah at South Valley High School, Students are working with local Pomo elders to transition the campus's landscaping into exclusively native plants, including a traditional Pomo medicinal plant section. Three students are working with a mentor, Bonnie Lockhart, to create a large mural celebrating traditional Pomo culture and values. Buffie Schmidt also works with students in the Native American Student Alliance on campus to teach and practice cultural crafts and learn more about their Pomo history.

By working with the local Pomo tribes, Ukiah Unified School hopes to continue expanding opportunities to learn about and celebrate the rich culture and history of the Pomo people.