U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
California

News.bytes News.bytes Extra, issue 241

Surprise Field Office Receives Visitors From Australia's Western Desert

In July, BLM California's Surprise Field Office welcomed a Martu Aboriginal family from Western Australia. Nyalangka Taylor, her daughter Cecilia, and granddaughters Anjela and Shaylene represent three generations of Martu from Parnngurr Outstation located in Western Australia. Their visit to the United States was through the invitation of Stanford anthropologists Rebecca and Douglas Bird as part of a bio-cultural exchange with Native American communities in the Western U.S. The Birds have been living with the Martu for the past six years while researching aboriginal resource use and land management practices.

(From left) Cecilia, Shaylene, Anjela, and Nyalangka, and Sidney Bird gathering "Epos," a traditional Native American food.(From left) Cecilia, Shaylene, Anjela, and Nyalangka, and Sidney Bird gathering "Epos," a traditional Native American food.

The Martu families from the remote Western Desert were among the last aboriginal people in Australia whose lives were completely autonomous of Western influence until the late 1960' and 1970's. During this time the bands moved to pastoral stations and missions but they continued to remain highly mobile. It was during the mid-1980's that concern over the influences of Western cultural, such as alcohol, prompted Nyalangka's mother to spearhead the political "Outstation Movement" which was instrumental in helping the Martu return to their traditional life. According to Douglass Bird up to 85% of the Martu diet is based upon traditional hunting and gathering. The return to traditional diet has resulted in healthier lives among the Martu.

While visiting Surprise Valley Nyalangka's family and the Bird family met with BLM archaeologist Penni Borghi to visit some of the archaeological sites and Rock Art in the Barrel Springs area. Nyalangka noted many aboriginal similarities in archaeological site features and rock art in the area. The Barrel Springs area is a source of traditional Native American food called "Epos" or "Yampa" During the afternoon everyone, including the children, participated in Epos digging. According to Penni Borghi, Nyalangka and Cecilia dug roots with amazing agility and speed. "It was a wonderful opportunity to witness how connected to the landscape and the environment the Martu are," Borghi said. "Even the children were tracking animals while we were out."

(From left) Anjela, Doug, Cecilia, and Shaylene visit a prehistoric archaeological site.
(From left) Anjela, Doug, Cecilia, and Shaylene visit a prehistoric archaeological site.

During their visit to Northeastern California the Taylor family met with members of the Gidutikad band of the Northern Paiute in Fort Bidwell and the Pit River Tribe. Among the topics shared at the meetings were arts heritage, resource use, and land management. Also discussed were native land claims, water problems and health concerns. In 2003, the Martu won legal recognition as rightful owners of 136,000 square kilometers of their ancestral lands. Said Bird, "Lawrence Harlan, tribal chair of the Gidutikad, asked about processes for Paiute to begin to make a native title claim for some of their land". According to Bird, Taylor told Harlan, that to establish the claim, "We worked country, we hunted and gathered, and demonstrated our customary ownership of the land".

Following their visit to Surprise Valley the Taylor Family will be visiting with indigenous representatives from Oregon, Utah and the Southwest.

For more information, see this article on the Stanford University website:
"Martu art exhibit reveals relationship with ancestral land" (Stanford Report, 7/12/06)
"Martu paintings tell stories -- mythic, spiritual and real. They depict maps of sacred locales and they convey the Martu's social obligations to 'country,' their ancestral lands in Australia's Western Desert....A dozen of these paintings by Martu aborigines, who before 2002 had never shown their artwork in public, are on display until July 21 in the Department of Anthropological Sciences."
http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2006/july12/aborigine-071206.html

(From left) Penni and Dino Borghi, Rebecca and Naomi Bird, and Doug Bird digging Epos.
(From left) Penni and Dino Borghi, Rebecca and Naomi Bird, and Doug Bird digging Epos.

- Penni Borghi
Archaeologist, BLM Surprise Field Office
July, 2006


BLM California News.bytes, issue 241