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Tolowa demonstrate traditional dance

Tolowa dancers wait to perform Saturday at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Del Norte Triplicate / Melea Burke
Tolowa dancers wait to perform Saturday at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Del Norte Triplicate / Melea Burke
Some sat cross-legged on the ground, meditating in the shadow of giant redwoods towering over the Jed Smith campground while others formed rows of folding chairs  in a half-moon around a shaded area swept clear of pine needles. 

Outside the campground, the midday heat was oppressive, but the redwood canopy offered instant relief for more than 100 people gathered for a special Saturday educational program co-hosted by Redwood National and State Parks, the Redwood Parks Association and members of the Tolowa Nation. 

Tribal members performed dances from the Tolowa Na-dosh annual renewal ceremony, which is traditionally performed inside a redwood plank house, according to a Redwood National and State Parks news release. 

For the demonstration, around 20 Tolowa dancers in full regalia and face paint performed beneath actual redwoods. 

Led by Joseph Giovannetti, a Smith River Rancheria Tribal Council member and a professor of Native American studies at Humboldt State University, dancers ranged in age from toddlers to elders. The mood was solemn as Giovannetti asked that the audience wait to photograph the dancers until after the performance — a matter of respect for the sacred ceremony, he noted. 

Dancers stood in a line facing the crowd, Giovannetti on the far left. The group chanted in unison, and during each song a different dancer moved forward out of line to perform solo in the center of the dance area. 

A real Na-dosh ceremony would be centered around a fire, which is considered sacred for its life-giving 
abilities. 

“We never turn our back to the fire,” Giovannetti said.

Park Ranger Jim Wheeler is lit by a natural spotlight as he talks about the history of Native American tribes in the region before a Tolowa dance demonstration Saturday. More than 100 people attended the free event. Del Norte Triplicate / Melea Burke
Park Ranger Jim Wheeler is lit by a natural spotlight as he talks about the history of Native American tribes in the region before a Tolowa dance demonstration Saturday. More than 100 people attended the free event. Del Norte Triplicate / Melea Burke

The Na-dosh tradition is unique in that women participate, unlike with other tribes in the region, Giovannetti added. 

The Tolowa dance event has become a regular feature on the Jed Smith State Park calendar of educational presentations. Park ranger Jim Wheeler organizes the demonstration each year as a way for visitors to the area to connect with the historical roots of its original inhabitants. 

While the dancing still captivates the audience, the Na-dosh demonstration was just that, Giovannetti emphasized -— a demonstration performed without the most important elements of the traditional ceremony, the medicine. 

“It doesn’t have the power of a real ceremony,” he explained. 

Reach Melea Burke at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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