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Nisenan People Tribute

Northwestern California University is headquartered in a building that sits alongside the Sacramento River on ancestral tribal land of the Nisenan people. The location is near the site of Pushune, the tribe’s most significant village in the Sacramento region. The Nisenan inhabited the area for at least 2,000 years before Spaniards and colonizing Americans arrived. It is estimated that the native ancestors of the Nisenan arrived in the area as early as 9,000 years ago.

Nisenan tribal lands extend from the Sacramento River in the west to the Sierra Mountains in the east, and then south to the Cosumnes River north of Elk Grove, with the northern reach going out to somewhere between the northern fork of the Yuba River and the southern fork of the Feather River.

Pushune was the dominant village of the Nisipowinan (Nisenan) on the northern bank of the American River. They called the river Kum Sayo which in their language meant “Roundhouse River.” The name they most frequently used to refer to themselves, and the location where they lived, was Natoma, meaning "the people of the north" place. The village was comprised of dome-shaped homes, sweat houses and acorn granaries on raised mounds and controlled the mouth of the American River at its confluence with the Sacramento River. Dwellings and structures of the village likely reached the grounds on which the school facility now sits.

When Captain John Sutter arrived in August 1839, the village was large and active. Its people cautiously interacted with him and the settlers who soon joined him. He built Sutter's Fort and an agriculture and trading company "Nueva Helvetia" near Pushune, though on the other side of the American River in the east end of present-day downtown Sacramento.

The influx of settlers eventually overwhelmed the Nisenan. Their numbers declined and gradually their lands became occupied by others.

A huge old oak tree stands in earth behind the school building. It was no doubt present long ago when Nisenan activity was vibrant and happening all around it. The tree serves as silent witness to centuries of history that have passed in the area through its lifetime.

We gratefully acknowledge the Nisenan People whose ancestral homelands we hallow as we ponder their long presence here.


Top of page: Illustration by Henry B. Brown drawn during his visit to California 1851 - 1852


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