Tucked away in North Fork, a museum dedicated to preserving the culture and heritage of an American Indian tribe may, without the Mountain Area’s support, be forced to one day close its doors.
The Sierra Mono Museum, opened in 1971, contains some of the most expansive displays of Mono Indian basketry in the state, along with numerous representations of area plant species and taxidermied animals such as bears or wolves.
But the museum is in serious need of repairs, maybe even a larger location. There’s no air conditioning or heating unit, tables to use for outdoor craft sessions are severely rotten and warped, and even its exterior paint and wood are chipping away.
Museum director Cindy Greenwood said not much can be done to fix those problems, partly because the facility’s annual Pow Wow in August, which brings in the majority of funds at $6,000 to $8,000, has been canceled due to fires the last two years.
“We need as much help as possible right now,” Greenwood said. “This museum is about preserving the history of this area. It’s about preserving the history of a wonderful culture that’s dying off ... if it had to close that would be a very sad event. It would be terrible, both for the tribe and the public.”
To help save the museum, an online donation website was set up at gofundme.com/sierramonomuseum, along with increased efforts to raise the number of visitations and annual memberships.
Susan Michael, one such member, said the $25 annual fee was more than worth it.
“It’s very important to me because it’s a place where I can come to learn,” Michael said as she received instruction from Mono members while weaving child Cradle Baskets, an important part of the tribe’s culture. “Not being Mono, I don’t have access to the knowledge and skills of the elders. So being able to come here and learn these things means I can have access to that wealth of knowledge. It’s priceless.”
Haroleen Bowland, a member of both the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians and the museum’s board, said that kind of experience was valuable.
“It’s a good feeling when you learn how to do something, especially when it’s a part of tribal heritage and culture,” Bowland said. “People can learn and understand that experience, those thoughts and feelings.”
“If we as a collective group lose the elders and lose this culture before we learn what they know, we’ll lose out on so much,” Michael added.
The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians is not directly affiliated with the museum, which operates independently though under direction of Mono members. Pictures of its interior and displays were not allowed per a decision by Mono elders to ban such practices.
The 45th Annual Pow Wow and Sierra Mono Museum’s Indian Fair Days will be held Aug. 6 and 7 at Minarets High School, with gates opening at 9 a.m.
To learn about the Mono people, visit the Sierra Mono Museum at 33193 Road 228, call (559) 877-2115, or go to sierramonomuseum.org. The museum’s Facebook page can be seen at www.facebook.com/sierramonomuseum.