Sing and Dance — Remember the Patwin

Man performs Indioan blessing while holding a clapper (stick) and feathers, in front of new historical marker.
Razzle Dazzle, of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians, performs a blessing at dedication of the historical marker in front of the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Quick Summary

  • Historical marker describes the uncovering of Indian village site and 13 burials during Mondavi Center construction
  • “Anger, grief and sadness gave way to generosity of spirit, remembrance and coming together for a common purpose”
  • Native Americans renew blessings upon this land and the people of two worlds occupying the same space

First came the Native American Contemplative Garden along the Arboretum Waterway. Now, not far away, comes a granite plaque inscribed with Patwin history as it relates to the land now occupied by the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.

The marker, unveiled last Thursday (Sept. 26) in front of the performing arts center, is titled, “Voices, Drums, Whistles. Sing, Dance, Remember.”

The marker encourages people to remember the Patwin who originally inhabited the banks of Putah Creek where UC Davis stands today ... to remember the people who once graced this land with their voices, drums and whistles ... to remember, by singing and dancing, the Patwin whose burial sites the university disturbed in the construction of the Mondavi Center.

Juan Avila, a member of the committee that brought the historical marker to life, spoke in the Yoeme language of his Yaqui people, and in English: “This is for all of the campus community, for all of us, not just Native American people. We should all remember our history, we should all have our humanity recognized.”


In the hour leading up to last week’s ceremony, Assistant Professor Jessica Bissett Perea was inside the Mondavi Center, teaching the first session of “Introduction to Native American Studies,” which this quarter comprises a public series of presentations titled “Native American and Indigenous Studies Research Now,” covering topics ranging from language preservation and recovery to an exploration of a Native American jazz musician to sacred land recovery.

The series, 10:30-11:50 a.m. Thursdays in Jackson Hall, continues this week (Oct. 3) with “You Are on P’atwin Land,” presented by Loren Michael Mortimer, a lecturer in the UC Davis Department of History, talking about the Native American Contemplative Garden in the UC Davis Arboretum.

Read more about the series on the College of Letters and Science website.

The inscription notes that in October 1999 an excavation crew uncovered a Patwin Indian village site and 13 burials. “After university officials complied with state and federal law protecting Native American grave sites, a committee was formed of Native American studies professors, students, staff and administrators, along with Bill Wright, prominent Patwin tribal elder from Cortina Rancheria, and his family,” the plaque states.

The committee’s goal, according to the plaque: to honor the Patwin heritage of UC Davis, the Patwin’s spiritual connection to this land, their ancestors, and all Native Americans at UC Davis and in the region. “As the project progressed, committee members’ feelings of anger, grief and sadness gave way to generosity of spirit, remembrance and coming together for a common purpose,” the plaque states.

The marker includes an excerpt of a prayer given by elder Wright upon the Mondavi Center’s dedication in 2002. The excerpt reads, in part: “Grandfather. Bless all the people who gather here today. Help us to understand and get along in this world. Bless the grounds that these buildings stand on. Those that are gone — the spirits from this land — help those who come through here. Maybe one day, they will understand about the other world, your world.”

Inés Hernández-Avila (Nez Perce/Tejana), professor in the Department of Native American Studies, who helped with the unveiling, said: “This marker is a blessing every time you see it, that you are blessed by the elder of this land.”

Man gestures while addressing audience.
Wright addresses the audience.

Charlie Wright, elder Wright’s son who serves as tribal chair, said, “The only thing we ask is to not forget them” — the Patwin who have moved on to the spiritual world — “to not feel guilty about what happened in the past, but to learn from it.”

He sang, in his native language, one of his father’s favorites, a blessing upon all to be happy, to be good. Razzle Dazzle of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians sang of new beginnings (and explained how “our songs are prayers asking the creator to give blessings to our people and our ancestors”).

Marissa Jacquemin, a third-year with a major in sustainable food and agriculture systems and a minor in Native American studies, said she felt the blessings. “I just closed my eyes and my body got covered in goosebumps,” she said.  

She and other students had just attended the first session of Native American Studies 1 in the Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall, and their teacher dismissed the class early so the students could attend the dedication ceremony outside.

“I think it’s so important, particularly for non-Native Americans like me, to constantly acknowledge that this is Patwin land and to feel very humbled to be able to be here and study here,” Jacquemin said.

Three people pose with historical marker.
Committee members, from left, Juan Avila, Inés Hernández-Avila and Charlie Wright. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

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