The beat of drums, sounds of singers, Indian dancers in traditional regalia, the aroma of Indian tacos, old friends greeting each other and new friendships being formed, arts, crafts and other goods for sale — all these were part of the Tuolumne Me-Wuk Rancheria’s 46th annual Acorn Festival.
A steady stream of shuttle buses transported hundreds of visitors between the festival and parking areas at and near Black Oak Casino throughout the weekend.
Sherri and Don Medeiros, of Fremont, said this is their second trip to the Acorn Festival, and it won’t be their last. They can hardly wait until next year when Black Oak Casino’s hotel is finished and they can spend the night.
The casino was opened by the Tuolumne Me-Wuk Band of Indians in 2001, and the four-story, 148-room hotel is under construction.
“We like browsing through the art, watching the dancers, looking at everything and the food,” Sherrie Medeiros said, “especially the food.”
The Coggin family agreed about the food. They ate there and took some home for later.
Jessie and Brian Coggin and their daughters, Milla, 6, and Sophia, 2, are new residents of Tuolumne. They happened to see signs directing visitors to the Acorn Festival Saturday and decided to check it out.
They were so impressed, they planned to return Sunday to see more.
Tribal elders from other areas were hosted by the Tuolumne Rancheria elders to a shaded hospitality area stocked with food and drink and provided with a cart for transportation so they could enjoy the festival without tiring themselves out.
Elders from as far away as Susanville, Portland and New Mexico attended.
Gene Pasqua, of Susanville, said he comes every year and looks forward to staying at the casino hotel next year. His rancheria provides transportation and lodging.
Tuolumne Me-Wuk Rancheria resident Mildred Hawkins relaxed in the shade and visited with other elders this year, but she said she remembers making thousands of Indian tacos over the years with her sister, Sharon Hendricks, and others.
The acorn festival began in 1966 on the Rancheria off North Tuolumne Road to celebrate the harvest of the acorn, which was a staple in the traditional Me-Wuk diet. Acorns were processed by a leaching system and made into bread, soup and other dishes.
The festival has become a place where American Indians from all over the country come to dance, commune, and sell traditional goods. It’s also a time and place where non-Indians can become more familiar with the culture and hospitality of the Me-Wuk people.