Homoja bemi ~ and welcome




The Nevada City Rancheria and its Tribe of Nisenan Indians seek to further education and communication through a presence on the internet. As Nevada County's historic Tribe, the Nisenan witnessed the onset of the Gold Rush, the statehood of California and the creation of Nevada County. The Tribe is proud to share its pre and post contact history with its community located in the Foothills of California.

What we are doing:
Preserving culture, protecting sacred sites, archiving and documentation of Tribal history, perpetuating relationships with the local community, historic Nisenan family genealogies, creation of a 501c3 non-profit entity, religious observations, death and birth rituals, Elder documentation, ancient village mapping, reigniting the 160 year relationship with Nevada County and its governing bodies, language classes indigenous to Nisenan lands, native crafts and performances, traditional and seasonal celebrations, promoting the Nisenan display at the Firehouse No. 1 Museum in downtown Nevada City, and much more.


Recent News

Join us in celebration!
Nisenan Heritage Day - Saturday,
October 13th, 2012

Miners Foundry, Nevada City, California


The indigenous people of Nevada County, the Nisenan of the Nevada City Rancheria, along with the California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project (CHIRP), invite the public to celebrate the first ever Nisenan Heritage Day on Saturday, October 13th, 2012, at the Miners Foundry Cultural Center in Nevada City. "The Nevada City Rancheria and CHIRP are hosting this event to foster community relationships, to share Nisenan culture, and to preserve the true and correct history of the original people of this land," says Shelly Covert, Secretary of the Nevada City Rancheria Tribal Council.

An Artifact Symposium hosted by the Nevada County Historical Society kicks off the day - registration opens at 8:00 a.m. The symposium will host a distinguished panel including professors and other local professionals to answer questions regarding laws governing mining, railroads, and Native American artifacts. The panel will also open the floor to questions about local artifacts.

Watch basket weaving demonstrations, meet Nisenan descendants whose families were here on these lands prior to the 1848 Gold Rush, learn about the history of the Nisenan Reservation - the Nevada City Rancheria created by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913 - and learn how it was lost in 1964. "The California Indian Basketweavers will have a booth," says CHIRP founder Judith Lowry,  "along with The Native Daughters of the Golden West, Sierra Streams Institute, and others will be there along with artisans including some of our finest California Indian jewelers. This is a purely California Native Culture event." The Colfax Todd Valley Tribe will provide Indian Tacos for sale at 12:30 p.m.

Mid-day/afternoon presentations in the Great Hall include Tribal Chairman of the Nevada City Rancheria, Richard Johnson, welcoming everyone & introducing the remaining Nisenan Elders, Native American dancers, special guests, and Nevada City Rancheria Tribal Councilmembers. Presentations begin at 12:30 pm with Judith Lowry – discussions on Native American Contemporary Art, Dr. Tanis Thorne & Hank Meals – California Indian Treaties of 1851, Dr. Sheri Tatsch – discussion about the Nisenan language & its many dialects, Marcos Guerrero – indigenous archeology & the cosmos, Nevada City Rancheria – history of the Nisenan recognition & termination, Richard Hurley & TJ Meekins – American California and the Fate of the Nisenan, Adela Morris: Institute of Canine Forensics – how the dogs help discover Tribal burials, and Debora Iyall – "Painting is Medicine" Art Exhibit. Order of the presentations to be announced.

An evening of music and dancing begins at 5:30 p.m. with The Debora Iyall Band, and Shelly Covert & UnderCover. A "no host" bar is available during the program. Tickets are available online http://www.nevadacityboxoffice.org, by phone at the Nevada City Box Office (530) 265-5462, in person at BriarPatch Co-Op in Grass Valley and at the door.

Contact Shelly Covert at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 530-570-0846 for more info.


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Nisenan Indians of the Nevada City Rancheria
by Shelly Covert
Nevada County Historical Society
Vol. 66, No. 4, October 2012

BEFORE THE ARRIVAL OF THE FIRST NON-NATIVES, THE indigenous people living in what later became Nevada County had peacefully occupied the land for thousands of years. Scattered across the large area of the Yuba and Bear river watersheds were dozens of Nisenan villages or "rancherias," each made up of extended family groups of different sizes.

A perception that Nevada County is a part of Maidu territory is inaccurate. The error is a common one, caused by the mistaken assumption that the term "Maidu" represents a a single tribal unit. In fact, Maidu refers to a very large and diverse linguistic unit.

The Northern Maidu and the Nisenan are sub-groups of a parent Maiduan language stock, which in turn is part of a larger Penutian language group that includes Miwoks, Wintus, Yokuts, and others. And within the Nisenan and Northern Maidu were many individual groups speaking a variety of dialects-each as different as German is from Italian.

In the act of recording and preserving local history (indigenous and non-indigenous alike) the Nisenan portion has been overwritten and altered in the past two decades. Inaccuracies and misinformation have crept into the public discourse, examples of which can even be found in Nevada County newspapers, books and semigovernmental reports.* Fortunately, by moving back in time one can find factual and accurate information about the indigenous people who lived on these lands.

Read the complete article and more by downloading the entire Nevada County Historical Society's October 2012 Bulletin as a 6-page PDF file here . . .


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Partnering again with the Firehouse No. 1 Museum, the Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan
entered a float in the 2011, 4th of July parade. The parade was held in Grass Valley this year
and had great attendance. The theme for the parade was "Active Liberty" and they addressed
the theme by honoring Native American Veterans. Everett "Weary" Smith, the Tribe's eldest
living member and WW2/Korea veteran, rode in the truck and Nisenan dancers danced and sang in his honor.

Click here for photos!


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Fight to preserve native culture
By Christopher Rosacker
Staff Writer
March 3, 2012


When Shelly Covert was young, she would frequently tap upon the drum of her Nisenan forefathers. It had belonged to Chief Louis “Laloak” Kelly, the Nisenan's last patriarch, passed down from the tribe headmen before him.

No one knows where the drum is now.

“So many of our artifacts were lost or taken out of our possession,” Covert said.

The missing drum was an eye-opener for Covert, who now sits on the Nevada City Rancheria Tribal Council, which fights for the restoration of federal recognition for the Nisenan, Nevada County's indigenous people, since recognition was rescinded in 1964.

“Our culture is vulnerable to being lost,” Covert said.

The Nisenan once had a reservation on what is now Cement Hill. When the federal government stripped California's tribes of their Federal status following the 1958 California Rancheria Act, the Nisenan lost their land.

“My family and all the children were removed,” said Tribal Council Chairman Richard Johnson. “That's where my grandfather and great grandfather lived. That's our homeland.”

While all but four of California's previously terminated rancherias have regained their federally recognized status, the Nisenan are still fighting. Covert estimates the tribe has 80 recognized members, with another 70 pending confirmation.

Securing a nonprofit federal grant would preserve Nisenan culture and be a key step toward federal tribal recognition, Covert said. The grant would fund a cultural center and the recording of stories and songs from the elders and develop educational curriculum for classes, she said.

Nisenan Tribal Council members Shelly Covert and Chairman Richard Johnson at the Firehouse No. 1 Museum in front of historic pictures of their ancestors. Photo for The Union by Christopher Rosacker

The Nevada City Council unanimously supported the effort at a meeting in January and agreed to express that backing in the form of a reference letter.

A big hurdle in the Nisenan push for recognition has been the Tsi Akim Maidu people's local efforts in the last decade in and around Grass Valley and Nevada City. Many people have a misconception that both groups are the same, Covert said.

The Tsi Akim's efforts were largely successful. Their symbol can be seen on the Idaho Maryland Road and East Main Drive roundabout sculpture. Nevada City deeded a small plot of land at the bottom of Broad Street to the Tsi-Akim. Perhaps their most successful endeavor has been Indigenous Peoples Days, celebrated annually in Nevada City.

But Tsi Akim's Nevada County heritage is disputed.

“Basically the Tsi Akim's roots are in Taylorsville,” said Tanis Thorne, director of the Native American studies program at the University of California-Irvine.

“As far as we were able to ascertain, they have no traceable lineage to Nevada County,” Thorne said.

In December 2010, the Nevada County Historical Society board of directors unanimously rescinded their 2000 endorsement of the Plumas County Tsi Akim Maidu.

Subsequently, historic society President Dan Ketchum submitted a letter suggesting the Nevada County Board of Supervisors adopt a motion to rescind its own Tsi Akim endorsement for federal recognition and instead recognize the Nisenan as the “only indigenous tribe of Nevada County.”

The word “Maidu” means “people” in their own language, notes the Tsi Akim Maidu website.

The Maidu are a people whose homelands extend roughly from the southernmost reaches of the Cascade Mountain Range to the north, the crest of the Sierra Nevada to the east, the North Fork of the Consumes River to the south, and to the Sacramento River to the west, the Tsi Akim site reads.

The website indicates that anthropologists have divided the Maidu into three basic groups based upon language variations: Nisenan (foothill or southern Maidu), Konkow (valley or north western Maidu) and the mountain or north eastern Maidu.

Although all those groups are part of the linquistic Maiduan strain, Nevada City's Firehouse Museum No. 1 Director Wally Hagman said those groups were very different from one another.

“Those labels initially were laid out by white guys that didn't know,” Hagman said.

Local Tsi Akim efforts are seen as a push for federal recognition, Johnson said.

“If Tsi Akim get recognized here, we lose everything,” Johnson said, referring to a provision in the Federal recognition criteria prohibiting multiple Historic tribes become recognized in a region.

“We would lose our heritage, our culture, our history and identity,” he said.

Tsi Akim Chairman Don Ryberg declined to comment when reached by phone Friday.

Covert said the Nisenan continue to seek recognition. And she hopes to one day have the chief's drum returned.

“If the drum going missing was the catalyst to what's happening now, then it's a good thing,” Covert said. “If that hadn't happened, I might not have gotten involved with all the people who have helped us since.”


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Tribe Stripped of Historical Recognition in Unusual Move
By Don Baumgart
March 23, 2011


Watertight baskets were used to cook by dropping heated rocks into the food, Nisenan Tribal Chairman Richard Johnson explained. Photo by T.D. Pittsford

The Nisenan Tribe of the Nevada City Rancheria currently has 80 certified members and one of them, Richard Johnson, knows about the tribe’s history.

“I’m probably the last Indian that was born on our reservation,” said Johnson, chairman of the Nisenan Tribe. “My grandparents were the last two Indians who lived on the reservation.” In 1958 California terminated all Indian reservations in the state. “We were a small reservation and we were one of the first to be picked off. We were promised a lot of things if my grandparents signed some papers, so they signed but the government never followed through on their promises. That’s basically what happened to all the California tribes.”

Johnson was removed from the reservation and placed in a foster home in Oakland. “Fortunately, the family I was sent to live with recognized the importance of my homeland and brought me back to spend summers with my grandmother,” he said.

He’s back now, permanently, and working to establish his tribe’s historic claims.

In a decision that could have far-reaching effect, the Nevada County Historical Society has voided a ten-year-old declaration on which tribe is native to the area.

The Nisenan Tribe now holds the society’s endorsement, formerly held by the Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe.

After a three-month study the society’s board of directors told Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribal Chairman Don Ryberg, “… the NCHS voted to rescind the 2000 Tsi-Akim endorsement.” Ryberg said he had not read the society’s decision and could not offer a comment on the group’s change of mind.

“Tsi-Akim is a manufactured name,” society member and museum curator Wallace Hagaman said. Ryberg told the society the Tsi-Akim name was adopted by members of the Taylorsville Rancheria in a neighboring county, to avoid the use of their “white man’s name.”

In its final report the society wrote, “The claim that Nevada County is a part of the traditional homeland to the Tsi-Akim is clouded.” And, “Research revealed factual inaccuracies regarding the Tsi-Akim’s claim to Nevada County as its traditional territory.” The committee found that claims made by the Tsi-Akim Maidu in 2000 were “…at variance with the facts,” according to Hagaman.

Hagaman was the person who first brought the matter to the society board’s attention. A committee was formed to investigate the authenticity of the Maidu claims.

“They heard testimony from both sides and from experts on local Native Americans. The society’s decision to remove its endorsement is a serious move,” he added. “You just don’t do that, you stick to your guns. But, it had to be done.”

“It means that the local community is recognizing us as the original indigenous people,” Johnson said.

Recognition as indigenous, given to the Maidu Tribe by the Nevada County Board of supervisors, still stands. “We’re not interested in recognizing another tribe,” Johnson said he was told by the supervisors.

The Maidu have been attempting for several years to get federal recognition. “Once a tribe obtains federal recognition then it can claim land and bring in business to the area,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to get federal recognition for the Nisenan Tribe, and have been trying for quite a few years, but it is a very long process.”

Standing next to displays in the society’s Nevada City museum, he talked of his tribe’s struggle to secure recognition. Behind him old photographs of his tribe filled one wall. In a locked case watertight Nisenan baskets and arrowheads from the area are displayed.

“We have no funding, we have no resources. We’re pretty well on the way but it’s going to take years and years and years.” He added that the Historical Society’s decision to switch recognition to the Nisenan Tribe will help with their efforts to get federal recognition—the next task to establishing historical claims for the tribe. ~~


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On December 2, 2010 the Nevada County Historical Society board of directors unanimously rescinded their 2000 endorsement of the Plumas County Tsi Akim Maidu. Following three months of research, including testimony by noted authorities and the personal testimony of the Tsi Akim tribal chairman, it was concluded that upon closer examination, many of the claims made by the Tsi Akim are unsupported by facts.

The Historical Society acknowledged that while adopted in good faith, the endorsement was a mistake because of the unsubstantiated claims which were made at the time. The Historical Society also noted that its 2000 endorsement was used to leverage other similar endorsements throughout the County including the weighty resolution given by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors.

The Historical Society’s decision was important to the Nisenan of the Nevada City Rancheria, in efforts to preserve its heritage and autonomy. Dilution, elimination and exclusion of Nisenan history by others who publicly conduct practices, teach history, customs and language which were never a part of the Nevada County Nisenan culture, does not honor those Nisenan descendants who have continued to live here on their ancient lands and are active in the community today.

The Nevada City Rancheria has received many comments and apologies about this but in no way do the members of the Nevada City Rancheria hold any bad feelings toward those who gave unknowingly; we thank you for taking the time to offer your apologies.

Click Here to read the report from the Nevada County Historical Society

Click Here for a photo of Nevada County Historical Society Board President, Daniel Ketcham, presenting the report to the Nevada City Rancheria Chairman, Richard Johnson.


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The Tribe, in partnership with the Firehouse No. 1 Museum, won 2nd place in the 4th of July parade, 2010. The parade was held in Nevada City this year. The turn out was awesome! Thank you to everyone who cheered us on that hot day!


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The newly renovated Nisenan Indian collection has been housed at the Firehouse No. 1 Museum since 1949. Tribal heirlooms and artifacts can be seen at the museum Tuesday – Sunday, 1:00pm – 4:pm. (Closed on Monday). The museum is supported by donation so please feel free to be generous!


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Nisenan artifacts are making their way “home” from as far as Oregon! Recently, a stone bowl made its way back to Nevada City. The bowl was originally the property of the Campoodie on Cement Hill but was given away as a graduation gift. Some 85 years later it is now back in the hands of the Tribe from whom it was originally created. If you have a Nisenan artifact that you would like to donate to the Tribe, or have a story about the Indians of the Campoodie, you can contact Shelly Covert; her contact information can be found on the contact page. The Tribe is preparing a space to house these treasures until they can be put on permanent display.


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The California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project (C.H.I.R.P) and its founder, Judith Lowry, hosted a lovely gala for the re-opening of the Firehouse No. 1 Museum. The museum renovations were also funded by CHIRP. The event was well attended. Speakers Sheri Tatsh and Tanis Thorne gave educational talks about the Nisenan of Nevada County. Mountain Maidu speakers Dugan Aguilar and Susan Campbell shared insights into culture and photography. Photos and video from the event.


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The Tribe has created a non-profit and is awaiting 501c3 status. It is hoped that the non-profit will become an integral part of education and culture sharing throughout Nevada County.


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The Tribe was invited to provide an information booth at the California Historic Preservation Conference which was held in Nevada City, California. Many new relationships were forged during the four day conference. Thank you to those who made our experience at the conference so productive.

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The traditional Spring Dance was held at the historic Enos Ranch property. Many of the dances performed in this celebration have been danced by our people for centuries. Both spring and fall dance celebrations are held every year.


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The Elder documentation project got underway at the beginning of the year. Four Elders have been documented thus far; Carmel Burrows, 89, Weary Smith, 82, Sam Starkey, 80 and Rose Enos, 75. We hope to have their interviews available online in the near future.

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Tribal Elder, Mabel Johnson Hobbs, was buried at the Nevada City Rancheria Burial Grounds. This was the first burial to be performed at our historic grounds in over 70 years.