It was an epic weekend as the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians observed three milestones: the 100th anniversary of the year the Tuolumne Rancheria was established, the 45th annual Acorn Festival and the 10th anniversary of the opening of Black Oak Casino.
The Tuolumne Rancheria was purchased by the United States on Oct, 26, 1910, and established as a home for landless Indians. The original acquisition consisted of 289 acres. Today there are more than 1,700 acres.
A book will come out in December detailing the history of the Rancheria and its people, Reba Fuller, the tribe’s government affairs specialist, said Saturday.
Most of the growth has occurred since the opening of Black Oak Casino in May 2001, but Tribal Chairman Kevin Day said times started changing several years earlier, when tribe members got together in the mid-1990s to reinvigorate the Acorn Festival.
“That’s when we listened to all of the tribal members and became more like one big family,” Day said. “That’s when things really started to change.”
The change was evident this weekend, as shuttle buses were kept busy carrying people from parking lots at nearby Black Oak Casino to the Rancheria. Once on tribal land, they drove past the modern schoolhouse, tribal hall, recreation center, playground, fire department, the newly renovated roundhouse, which is the spiritual center of the tribe, and other amenities.
Hundreds meandered through vendors’ tents, ate Indian tacos and salmon barbecue, watched traditional Indian dancing and reunited with friends and family.
“This is fantastic,” said Jamie Mantzouranis, who grew up on the Rancheria. “It’s like the old days, with so many people, the dancing and hand games. Everybody is so happy.”
A powwow has been held in conjunction with the Acorn Festival during the second weekend in September for about 15 years. Indian dancers perform from as far away as Sacramento, Nevada, San Jose and Chowchilla.
Powwow organizer Myra Kester, of Tuolumne, said it was a great turnout this year. Although she didn’t have exact numbers of people, she said it is growing every year, and that’s the goal.
She said the committee organizing the powwow includes herself, Shauna Swanner, Robert Cox, Louise Mainville and Debra Jones.
“We come every year with our family,” said Anita Payne, of Sonora. “It’s a really nice event. We love the dancers, and the Indian tacos are fabulous.”
Donna Romine, of Sonora, said it was her first time attending.
“I’ve always wanted to try an Indian taco,” she said. “It’s really good, and I love watching the dancers.”