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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America



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Tribes Share the Gifts of the Yucca


by Scott Vanhorne San Bernardino Sun, Staff Writer


Yucca plantSAN MANUEL RESERVATION - As a teen, James Ramos hiked into the foothills to harvest yucca so his grandmother could cook a delicious dish from the cluster of white flowers atop the fibrous plant.

She looked at the stalk he brought back and said it was dry and worthless. Ramos had picked it too late.

That first experience did not deter the young San Manuel tribe member from harvesting yucca again, but he learned an important lesson pluck the plant before the sun saps its moisture.

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians members gathered at Tribal Unity Park on Saturday to celebrate the yucca harvest and rekindle their connection to the plant their ancestors used for food, clothing, soap and medicine.

"It really gives you a sense of who you are and your identity,' Ramos said.

Willie Pink, a member of the Pala Band of Mission Indians, was the main attraction at the cultural event. His grandfather taught him about the yucca's various uses, and now he shares that knowledge with others.

A few children watched intently as Pink showed them how to make bread from yucca's soft center and explained how to turn the plant's prickly leaves into cordage.

Aliana Mathews, 38, said she wants her children to carry on the Serrano people's traditions and history, and teaching them about the use of the yucca is part of that.

"The kids need to know where they came from,' she said. "They need to know there wasn't always a casino, and things weren't always so easy to come by.'

Mathews remembered growing up on the reservation eating yucca flowers cooked with "government cheese' and eggs. It was one of her favorite meals.

"I thought everybody ate like that,' she said.

Pauline Murillo, 70, recalled the days when she and her relatives ate yucca that had been wrapped in canvas and cooked in dirt warmed by fire. They would suck the sweetness out of the fibers and spit out the remnants.

Murillo said she encourages her grandchildren to learn about the traditions she grew up with.

"You have to learn all you can now because one day we'll be gone,' she tells them. But she knows all of the youths will not carry on the old ways.

"They are too modern now,' she said.

Cindy Ramos, 15, wants to be the exception.

She watched the stove in the kitchen at the park Saturday as the sweet smell of baking yucca bread filled the room. Like her father, James Ramos, Cindy wants to preserve her ancestors' culture and traditions, and she hopes the younger children take notice.

"If the bigger kids show them that we are interested, then they will be interested too,' she said.

San Manuel Indian Reservation, CA Map

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