New Auburn structure recalls the shape of things past

Private park’s gazebo pays tribute to United Auburn Indian heritage
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer Journal Staff Writer
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The United Auburn Indian Community’s traditional tribal home in South Auburn is getting a new private park that honors the past. The project includes a large gazebo, with lines that hearken back to a roundhouse that once sat on the land. For the past nine months, the tribe’s 2.1-acre property off Indian Hill Road has been a construction site. In recent weeks, one of the most prominent features on the property has been a conical, wood roof supported by steel pillars. The shape mimics the contours of roundhouses erected for spiritual and tribal teaching. But tribal spokesman Doug Elmets said Tuesday that the conical roof will top a gazebo meant for recreational purposes, including picnicking. On private land, the gazebo is part of a development called the United Auburn Indian Community Park. The “community” part of the name refers to the tribe rather than the community at large, Elmets said. Near the United Auburn Indian school and preschool, the park includes a recreational area consisting of a basketball court, splash pad, showers and grassy area for play. That will increase recreational opportunities for students at the two schools, Elmets said. The park is due to be completed in June. Maidu and Miwok Indians had moved to the rancheria area from nearby land in 1905 after a smallpox epidemic. It was declared the tribe’s home by the federal government in 1916. The tribe lost its tribal status on the land 41 years ago but regained it in the 1990s, clearing the way for ownership and financial stability as owner of the 5-year-old Thunder Valley Casino, near Roseville. Two years ago, the tribe bought land across Indian Hill Road from its traditional lands for offices and schools. Then it turned its attention to improving the rancheria property. It is also developing land in western Placer County for tribal housing. “This is something the tribe has long wanted to do” Elmets said. “For the adults, it’s a way to reconnect with their culture and for the kids, it’s a way to connect with their culture and understand the importance of native American history.” Large boulders found on the site have been retained. Sewer, water and electricity has been connected or improved. And in a first for property, sidewalks are being constructed. The rancheria land is an island of unincorporated Placer County, situated within city of Auburn boundaries. Costs for the work are not being released. “The plan is to create something where members of the tribe want to come and be together,” Elmets said. Rick Adams, president of the Hutuanape Cultural Foundation in Roseville, said that a traditional roundhouse would be used for schooling boys in the rules to live by, dancing, land rights and animal rights. The roundhouse was also where stories were told and handed down. “It was also a place to go to become healed,” Adams said. “There was a lot of the cleaning of the psyche.” Auburn’s last roundhouse can be seen in a 1932 photo. Some 150 to 200 roundhouses once occupied the Sacramento Valley area, Adams said. The Auburn roundhouse replaced one deliberately burned on orders of Indian elders after the 1905 epidemic. Adams said that unlike older longhouses, it was built with supports that lifted the roof off the ground. Earlier versions had public areas dug into the ground to create interior space. The change in design in the later versions was symbolic, Adams said. “Natives after the 1800s felt they had lost connection to the land so they started building them on top of the ground,” he said. Roundhouses weren’t built to last. Each only existed as long as the person who ran it lived. Then the structure was burned down. “It represented a culture that was well-established and, in many respects, was there to honor that culture,” Adams said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at