Nieca Wright and Lenora Hall began building the fire for sand bread about two hours before vendors began setting up at this year’s Dee-ni’ Day event.
Mixing flour, sugar and water together to form a dough, Hall said they began baking their bread at about 9:45 a.m. on Saturday. Hall and Wright estimated that the temperature of the oven they made was about 400 degrees, but said they are able to determine the fire is hot enough by feel.
“You have to make sure the pebbles and sand are nice and hot,” Hall said.
Hall said there are about five or six people who are really good at making sand bread. For Dee-ni’ Day, the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation takes bids for those who want to demonstrate. Hall said it gives everyone an opportunity to show off their culture.
“Nieca’s been doing this since she was 2,” Hall said. “It takes quite a bit to make that pit. You have to dig the hole and line it with the big rocks and then you have to go out in the surf when the tide’s out and gather those pebbles. The pebbles move with the tide. We went out the other day, Nieca did, and there were no pebbles, so she went out the other day and she was able to get pebbles. It takes big heavy buckets, but once the pit’s formed that will stay there for a long time.”
The Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation’s annual Dee-ni’ Day event is a way for the tribe to share their culture with the community. In addition to offering samples of traditionally-cooked sand bread, there was a horseshoe tournament, traditional gambling and a stick game tournament.
Inside Howonquet Hall, Karuk tribe member Denna Dodds, Tolowa tribal member Denise Dv-nis McKenzie and Lena Hurd, a Yurok tribal member, demonstrated their basket weaving abilities.
Dodds said she was making a baby rattle out of spruce root, overlaying it with bear grass.
Near the sand bread pit, Sammy Gensaw III and Peter Gensaw, founders of the Ancestral Guard, skewered Klamath River salmon onto redwood stakes and cooked them over an alder wood fire. The fish was caught at the mouth of the river about two days prior to the event, Peter Gensaw said.
Using alder logs and redwood stakes to prepare the salmon allows the fish to cook from both the inside out and the outside in, according to Peter Gensaw. The redwood absorbs the heat from the fire while the alder provides a smoky flavor, he said. Peter Gensaw said if he and Sammy Gensaw III wanted the fish to cook faster, they would have used madrone.
Peter Gensaw noted that he and his people had to fight to be able to fish on the Klamath River. This year, he said, his family will have a chance to fill their smokehouse with fish.
Last year, the Yurok Tribe canceled both its commercial and its subsistence fisheries due to low salmon returns to the Klamath River. This year, although the tribe’s commercial fishery is still canceled, Yurok members were able to subsistence fish on the river.
Sammy Gensaw III said his family ran out of salmon last year.
“Our family is usually the fish family, we don’t run out of salmon,” he said. “Salmon’s a whole way of life for our people and being able to do this whole process here is a blessing and something I’m grateful for because I didn’t think about it too much when I was younger. Now, not having an opportunity to do it, it really takes a toll on you and it really makes you think about the conservation of salmon and how we’re going to restore our relationships with the river so future generations can continue to do this.”
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .