New statue to represent local Nisenan

Auburn needs a little diversity, resident says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Those who visit Central Square could see a new addition by fall. On Monday night the Auburn City Council approved a life-sized statue for one of the three pedestals in Central Square. The statue is scheduled to be a late 1800s male Nisenan Native American dancer and is being paid for the United Auburn Indian Community. Councilman Mike Holmes said he and Mayor Bill Kirby met with the UAIC April 25 to discuss two maquette designs and one was chosen to go on for City Council approval. Holmes said Wednesday he thinks representing the Nisenan people in Downtown Auburn is just another way to keep a piece of Auburn area history alive. “I think it is important that we recognize the Native American Nisenan people who were here before the Gold Rush and who, unfortunately, did not fare very well for many years,” Holmes said. “And now of course they are doing much better. I went to school with a number of tribal members many years ago, and as a native of Auburn I didn’t think too much about it other than they were just classmates and that sort of thing. So, I think this gives them some recognition, and also we are quite grateful to the tribal council for selecting a world-renowned sculptor to do the work.” Auburn artist Douglas Van Howd is crafting the piece. Van Howd said he has done a lot of work for UAIC in the past, and is looking forward to having a piece of his art in Downtown Auburn after living in the area for 40 years. “I’m very honored to do it,” Van Howd said. “I enjoy things like this. It’s going to be a nice piece in town. I do live here and it represents my work. They wanted me to represent their culture and I did a lot of research on this.” Van Howd has a lot of experience creating life-sized statues. “This is a fun one to do because usually I’m doing some senator or something that’s sort of boring to begin with,” he said. “The research of this is really neat. I went to their dances they had at the Maidu Museum when they had a cultural day. They had the dancers come in and they had their costumes on. And they did their dances, and I was amazed at how every dance is a program.” Van Howd said the dancer will be wearing a skin robe around his waist, has a headdress of woodpecker tail feathers and is barefoot. In his hands he has a small deer antler and a hollowed out willow that works as a rattle. Van Howd said he should be finished in about four months and the statue, which will be about 5-foot-6-inches tall when standing, could be ready to go up in September. “I think any art that you add in town is going to add a lot to the community,” Van Howd said. “And this is representing the people that were here before us, and I think it’s great. I happen to live on a piece of property where they ground their acorns in the rocks. We have this heritage here. This was a really wonderful area for a Native American to live in the early days, because of our temperatures and it was teeming with wildlife.” At the meeting Monday night council members discussed the hopes of starting a program to keep temporary art in Central Square to showcase Auburn area artists. The artwork could also possibly be for sale. The Nisenan statue is currently the only permanent piece scheduled for the square. Doug Elmets, spokesman for the UAIC, said the tribe is happy to have a representation of its history in Downtown. “He definitely strikes a dramatic pose, and it is … one in what will potentially be a series of sculptures in the Downtown Auburn area,” Elmets said. “And I think the tribe is pleased that it will be the first of the series and hopeful that other sculptures that are reflective of the region will be of similar caliber.” Elmets said keeping a representation of the Nisenan in Auburn is very important in keeping the area’s history alive. “They were the first residents of not only Auburn, but of really the entire region,” he said. “And they hunted, they gathered, they lived communally in and around this region, and their history is intricately tied to really everything that came after that point.” Auburn resident Jan Robinson said she thinks the statue will be a great addition to the square. “I’m positive anyone walking by a statue like this is going to stop, and look and have a conversation about it,” Robinson said. “I think it’s fantastic.” Auburn resident Tamala Satre said she thinks the statue will recognize an important part of the area’s past. “I think it’s going to be a very good addition,” Satre said. “I think we need a little more diversity here. There is a little more history to Auburn than gold mining that people don’t realize.” Reach Bridget Jones at