Suscol Intertribal Council is fundraising to build Suskol House, a meeting place on a 20-acre site in the Chiles-Pope Valley in northeastern Napa County. The purpose of this beautiful, quiet spot is “to preserve, disseminate and protect the Native American traditions, songs, dances, basketry and ceremonies of indigenous people of the Americas”. Development is experimental, state of the art construction blended with traditional adaptations. Support is needed for them to finish this project, important not only for native peoples but for all of us living in Napa County. The following describes the project and its mission in more detail.
Charlie Toledo, executive director of Suscol Intertribal Council, says that we are at crisis stage for water in California. State legislators are hesitant to inform public of how dire situation is for fear of creating mass panics or exodus from the state. She goes on to say, “If massive public education and conservation practices were immediately implemented, the severity of this crisis could be limited.”
I wish I could categorize her statements as one of those paranoid theories, except she’s been saying this for years and water shortages are proving this state of affairs to be increasingly all too true. The first time I heard her warning was four years ago when we were in the early years of the drought. I interviewed her for an article on water, as she has been on the state water board for years, using her indigenous knowledge of agriculture to advocate for riparian corridors along rivers and streams, for conserving resources, for living within our water means.
Then, as if to see the panic rising in my eyes, she adds, “But there are things to be done. We can start using a lot less water.” I remind her of the time I offered to wash dishes after being invited to attend a sweat at the Suskol House land, and she wouldn’t let me. She insisted on doing it herself, sparingly using sacred water to clean the plates, the silverware, the pans, in the outdoor kitchen. It reminded me of my own childhood growing up on a midwestern farm. Our wells were a presence. Use too much water, and you ran out. You simply had to wait until the well filled up again. My grandmother washed dishes like Charlie does.
Water connects everything. The respectful care of riparian corridors and the management of our forests on our hillsides determines how well aquifers recharge. Water usage, including how we dirty and then dispose of water, is part of the equation of how much water is available. In this day of supposedly abundant water, many take its quantity and quality for granted. The idea of the hydrological cycle is not a common concept: that water is part of a larger cycle, which insures its continuing existence.
The Chiles-Pope Valley land of Suskol House is a thoughtful model of this cycle. Permaculture mounds, also used as planting beds, slow hillside runoff, allowing water to sink in and restore aquifers. The mounds are built of cleared brush and sequester carbon. When you enter the land, you learn to ask the land and inhabitants permission.
The house itself is to be made of Bamcore, a sustainably harvested bamboo material, and a replicable model which minimizes the use of trees. The house also minimizes water usage and is totally off the gird. It is earthquake and fire resistant.
The United Nations Harmony with Nature project collects suggestions from experts from all over the world on ethical, environmental and social justice issues to bring our planet into balance. Recommendations include incorporating indigenous knowledge on land use practices. Suskol House melds current best land use practices with indigenous know how, respect of the other, and the consideration of the rights of an ecosystem to exist. We in Napa County have a lot to learn from this humbly beautiful, thriving land in what is still a remote area of our Napa County.
What if Erosion Control Plans required consultation with indigenous experts and implementation of their recommendations? What if we engaged in land practices that considered humans as only some of the citizens of our earth, equal in status while still different from the oaks and the streams, the air and from those who move through on wings, on four and six and eight legs, or no legs at all? How would our Napa Valley be different?
Yes, this is a dream, but dreams are guiding stars. Let’s support these descendants of those who knew how to live for centuries in the abundance of our Napa Valley. Their vision is one we need in the coming decades and may just save our tenancy on our dear planet.