Petaluma Storyteller Keeps Indian Tradition Alive
by Karen Pierce Gonzalez freelance writer featured in San Fransico Chronicle
-- Storytelling has always been a part of life for Lanny Pinola of Petaluma. As a child born on the small Kashaya
(Southeastern Pomo) reservation near Stewart's Point and then raised by family in Sebastopol, he spent hours listening
to elders tell tales in their traditional language about life before and after European contact. Those afternoons,
perched at the feet of his grandmother or on the porch of someone's home, filled Pinola's imagination. He easily
became the mischievous coyote, turtle or other character in the story, learning lessons about community and responsibility.
"My grandmother would share a story about coyote in trouble because he hadn't thought about what he was doing, and then she would say to me, 'You don't want to be like coyote, do you?' ''
Pinola, 62, warmly recalls the way his elders used stories to discipline. "In this way, she put a point across about how we were to behave in the world.'' As a culture bearer of Kashaya Pomo traditions and a fluent speaker of the language, Pinola continues to keep the oral traditions alive through storytelling in both Indian and non-Indian communities.
He brings his own personal, animated style of storytelling to the sixth annual California Indian Storytelling Symposium and Festival at Ohlone College in Fremont.
Storytelling is "good medicine,'' Pinola said for many reasons. Not only does it offer people a "compassionate'' sense of direction about their relationship to life, it also connects them to the past ... --the recent past and Uool dou wenneh, the mythological time long before time also found in the "Once Upon a Time'' of European fairytales. In recounting the immediate past, Pinola tells a poignant story about the making of his first clapper stick. These rhythm instruments, made of wood, are played against the palm of the hand and are the most popular musical instrument of California Indians.
"I didn't know I was supposed to give away my first one,'' said Pinola who offers a poignant story about this rite of passage. He talks about letting go of something he cherished. This is an experience that many people, Indian and non-Indian alike, can relate to, according to Lauren Texeira, founder of the storytelling association.
"Stories are a key to our sense of who we are as human beings,'' said the author of "Costanoan/Ohlone of the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Area: A Research Guide.'' Also a children's librarian for Santa Clara County, she added that stories bring people together in a way that lets them laugh and care about one another.
"If stories can make people laugh and cry in the sitting, then they are successful,'' said Pinola, who has presented his stories at the National Storytelling Association's annual convention and at universities and museums throughout the state. The Brigham Young University graduate first practiced public story telling on those who visited Kule Loklo, a model Miwok village at Bear Valley park in Olema. An interpretative park ranger since 1985, he has talked to millions of Point Reyes National Seashore park visitors about his heritage -- both the Pomo (maternal) and Coast Miwok of Nicasio (paternal) influences. For example, he tells people about how the Russian words for sock, cat and plate came into the Pomo language through interactions at Ft. Ross.
One of his favorite animal tales is about Gushka, a cat tricked by a mouse who escaped after encouraging the hungry feline to "wash his hands before eating.'' On special occasions, the former Sonoma Indian Health board member, who also served as a counselor in the Santa Rosa School District, also tells stories specifically for young American Indians. These occur in public school rooms, at conferences and at ceremonial gatherings in such places as the sacred "roundhouse'' of native California tradition. It was at such a gathering at Bear Valley's Kule Loklo that Susie Montijo Moore (Chumash/Yokut) first heard Pinola's stories. An advisor for the nonprofit `"Circle of Strength'' alcohol and drug prevention program, she sat spellbound.
"Listening to him, I felt proud of my Indian heritage,'' said Moore, a resident of Petaluma. Many of the young people in attendance were also feeling a sense of pride in their culture.
"Stories are a way to reach the young people who are looking for role models. So many of us have been told Indians are `dumb and dirty,' '' says Pinola, whose work counters that myth. "I have seen young people blossom because they can find their roots in these stories.'' A discovery like that, he added, can help them find their way home.
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