Positive Native Visibility: Pomo Project and Artstart Mural at Elsie Allen High School
A Going Beyond Land Acknowledgements case study
By Rose Hammock
The "Spirit of Healing" Wall Mural at Elsie Allen High School (Santa Rosa, CA)
All photos courtesy of Christine Cobaugh, 2022
Wondering how your school can “Go Beyond Land Acknowledgements” and increase Native visibility on campus? Sonoma County’s Elsie Allen High School recently completed a year-long project aimed at celebrating the local Native community and encouraging students to learn more about Pomo culture.
For close to a year, the Pomo Project, a Sonoma County based Native culture organization, focused on raising money for the “Spirit of Healing” wall mural located at Elsie Allen High School (EAHS) in Santa Rosa, CA. The design of the mural was created by Joseph Salinas and captures the Pomo homelands, which stretch throughout Sonoma, Lake, Marin, and Mendocino counties. Featured on the mural are basket weavers, traditional dancers, and examples of Pomo regalia. The mural, in the middle of campus, is a constant reminder to students and staff that they are guests on Pomo territory, and that they are living in a place with a legacy of Indigenous knowledge, culture, and beauty.
" My first feeling of seeing the mural is how blessed and lucky I am to be a part of something that's going to be there beyond me and my life - being able to know that my artwork is oing to be there past my life... to be able to help our community of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County better understand our culture, our people, and our history. " Joseph Salinas, original mural artist and Dance Leader for the Sonoma County Youth Pomo Dance Group, Pomo from Kashia Stewarts Point
Why is the Pomo Mural an example of Going Beyond Land Acknowledgements?
The Pomo Project, in partnership with Artstart and Elsie Allen High School, worked hard to provide a strong example of Native visibility that all students and campus
staff can learn from as they go to school every day.
For context, Native American people feel, and are, largely erased from American culture, especially in education. Most schools in the United States do not include any information on Native American people in their course content, and those that do often rely on misrepresentations. Having knowledge of whose ancestral land you live and work on is an important step in becoming an ally to Native people. This mural combats the erasure of the local Native community, especially for Native students on campus. It reminds the community that Native people exist, still practice culture, and still have a deep relationship to the land where they live and attend school.
" I graduated from EAHS in 2014. As an alumni and previous Native student on the campus, it brings me pride in knowing future Native youth will be seen! I am very humbled to everyone in our community who stood by us and supported us in bringing this mural to life, on a campus that is named after a famous Pomo basket weaver, Elsie Allen. It was an honor to be a part of this mural project and I am in gratitude to all of our people who have and continue to support the Pomo Project." - Rose Hammock, Redbud Resource Group
Additionally, the “Spirit of Healing Mural” project provided an opportunity for co-creation between the Native and non Native communities, who worked together to combine their strengths for the betterment of the school community as a whole! Instead of Artstart and Elsie Allen High School taking the mural design, claiming it as their own, and displaying it on their campus, the mural team respected the original mural artist, Joseph Salinas. With proper guidance, Hannah, the lead Artstart artists led other volunteers and students on creating details in the baskets, Pomo dancers, and all of the animals.
Both Artstart and Elsie Allen High School showed deep respect to cultural teachers Rose Hammock and Joseph Salinas, who shared knowledge about cultural and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). As students worked, Hammock and Salinas brought in culturally significant items such as regalia, which the painters referred to as they painted the Pomo women and men dancers featured on the mural.
To celebrate the relationships formed between the Pomo Project and Elsie Allen, the local Pomo dance group was invited to dance and bless the mural on campus at the mural unveiling. The presence of the dance group on campus further solidifies the message that Pomo people are very much still present and in relationship with their ancestral homelands! The “Spirit of Healing Mural”, with the blessing of the Pomo community, is truly a symbol of healing and positive relationships that will impact students and teachers for years to come.
"I was deeply honored to be entrusted with leading this important project. From the moment I saw Joe's original design, I had a vision for my translation of the design into a mural. The support I received from the wider Pomo community, along with Joe's faith in my execution of that vision with unconventional colors and materials, allowed for the creativity and talent of all of the artists involved to proliferate and develop into something far beyond what I had even imagined. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience, in every way." - Hannah Day, Director of Artstart and Lead Artist on the Mural
The Redbud team is grateful to have attended the unveiling event, as well as witness the good standing relationships between Artstart, Pomo Project, and Elsie Allen High School staff. We are hopeful that this sovereignty strengthening relationship will continue and inspire others to follow suit!
The unveiling event was followed up by a photo and article in one of our local newspapers in Sonoma County, The Press Democrat. If you are interested in reading more about the mural, click on the link below.
"Spirit of Healing" Mural at Elsie Allen High School
Pomo traditional singers at the mural unveiling event
Rose Hammock and Elsie Allen principal
Pomo traditional dancers at mural unveiling event
Hannah Day, Artstart Director