The Ethnobotany Project

Ethnobotany Project Cover 100 dpi

Collaborator Rose Ramirez and I just completed our Ethnobotany Project, a book focusing on the contemporary uses of twelve native plants of profound importance to the intellectual, spiritual, and cultural vitality of Southern California and Northern Baja Indians. The Ethnobotany Project is available at Blurb, the online publisher. Special thanks to our friend, Tima Link, who designed the Ethnobotany Project, and to all of our contributors.

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Many of our contributors are repositories of cultural knowledge, eloquent defenders of the land, its sacredness for Indian people, and its importance for all species who inhabit it. In our region, the heart of Native identity lies in the chaparral and sage scrub covered hillsides, oak woodlands, riparian creeks, and desert regions. Many of our contributors are fierce advocates for these diverse ecological communities and the cultural traditions that both shape and are sustained by those communities.

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People now speak of the necessity for a major shift to a sustainable society from our unsustainable and ultimately destructive way of life. We have the opportunity to learn from people whose ancestors were here for thousands of years, living in sustainable and ecologically viable communities. Our contributors are knowledgeable, wise, and generous. They share what they’re really passionate about: the nutritive, medicinal, and material properties of native plants used as food, medicine, fiber, dye, shelter, and that provide inspiration and ceremony. Rose, Tima and I hope you enjoy the Ethnobotany Project.

ISHI: The Archive Performance

James Luna

Hope you can come see
ISHI: The Archive Performance
James Luna with Sheila Tishla Skinner
California State University San Marcos, ARTS 111, September 12
Remember to RSVP for tickets
Beautiful poster above created by Megan Doughty

from Culture Storm:
is a new work written and performed by James Luna, renowned Native American, visual and performance artist. In 1911, an Indian man walked into the small northern California town of Oroville. His sudden appearance inspired fright, laughter, and pity from the populace.  The civic leaders had the foresight to contact an anthropologist who came to the conclusion that Ishi indeed was the last of his tribe. It was decided that for his welfare and for the advancement of science that he would occupy the Museum on the University of California Berkeley’s campus, where he lived out his remaining years as a living specimen.

The archives suggest there is more to this story, which has never been told. Believing that the story of Ishi is one that should be remembered and hold an important place in the history and cultures of California and that there is much to learn from him and his plight. Mr. Luna has created a performance that explores this significant life. Many questions about Ishi’s experience, both mysterious and uncomfortable, are evoked by this performance.

On some questions Ishi remained silent, perhaps because of language barriers (as no one could completely translate his language) and so there are many questions that remain which only he could have answered.  Perhaps he could have but chose not to, an “ole Indian” trick?  In any event Ishi’s story remains as a grim reminder of Western fascination with Indigenous cultures and its detrimental disregard of humans, forgetting that we are all sentient beings.

James believes that the Ishi performance has manifested itself at this time in his life, but it’s been waiting inside him for years and has now made its appearance with a vengeance!  He rates this new work with his much-lauded “Artifact Piece.” As in life, Art matters have come full circle.

About James LunaInternationally renowned performance and installation artist James Luna (Puyukitchum/Luiseno) resides on the La Jolla Indian Reservation in North County San Diego, California. With over 30 years of exhibition and performance experience, Luna has given voice to Native American cultural issues, pursued innovative and versatile media within his disciplines, and charted waters for other artists to follow.  His powerful works transform gallery spaces into battlefields, where the audience is confronted with the nature of cultural identity, the tensions generated by cultural isolation, and the dangers of cultural misinterpretations, all from an Indigenous perspective.

Red-tailed hawk

An October visitor, Red-tailed hawk / Buteo jamaicensis, in the pine tree above my front porch. Please click on the images for a larger view.

I’m really a plant devotee, but became interested in photographing birds because of an extraordinary student at California State University San Marcos where I teach. Clarissa McCallum is a birder and phenomenal photographer. My definition of a birder is one who hears the bird before she sees it. One who is patient. Very, very patient. I went out shooting with Clarissa. She was always in place for the shot, whereas I was still looking for the bird. Where is it?

For a final project in an advanced class, Clarissa produced a book on the birds of San Diego County. It’s still available on  Check it out here: Birds I View. If you’re living in southern California, forget traveling to an exotic locale. Clarissa will convince you that San Diego is a birder’s paradise, as well as a plant person’s. Below is Clarissa’s photo of cedar waxwings, Bombycilla cedrorum, one of her favorite birds, resting on sycamore branches.

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Blue Nile Waterlily, Nymphaea caerulea

_D3A4538-EditThe blue Nile waterlily, Nymphaea caerula, was sacred to ancient Egyptians. When the lily rose from the abyss and the flower opened, its petals revealed a sun god sitting it its gold heart. The sun god banished the darkness, and life began. Photographed in the Adelaide Botanic Garden in Australia.

california native plants, cultures, and the environment: an art and photography site


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