2012-01-21 "200 years of history brings Russians, Indians to Fort Ross" by MARTIN ESPINOZA from "THE PRESS DEMOCRAT"
Russians and Kashia Indians gathered at Fort Ross State Historic Park on Saturday for an “opening blessing” of the 200-year anniversary of the historic Russian settlement.
The ceremony, which brought together elders of the Kashia band of Pomo Indians and the Russian consul general of San Francisco, sought to evoke the first encounter between the tribe and Russian and native Alaskan settlers.
“I hope this is the...renewal of a relationship that was established 200 years ago,” said Vladamir Vinokurov, the consul general, after he was given an elaborate handmade Native American necklace.
The ceremony kicked off a series of events this year aimed at commemorating the history of Fort Ross. Events include planned San Francisco and Santa Rosa performances of a 30-year-old Russian rock opera about a love affair between a Russian nobleman and the daughter of the Spanish commandante in San Francisco in the early 1800s.
Kashia tribal members pointed out that during the time the Russians lived among them, their treatment of the Indians contrasted sharply with the way Native Americans were treated by Spanish colonists elsewhere in California.
Reno Franklin, vice chairman of the Kashia Pomo tribe, said the Russian fort was often a safe haven for Indians abused by others colonizers.
Park supporters said they hope this year's bicentennial events help spur public-private funding for the park, which now is only open on weekends.
“We're going to have to look at new creative models for funding our open space and parks,” Sonoma County Supervisor Efre Carrillo said.
The event also drew State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, and California Parks Director Ruth Coleman.
Mark Dillen, a member of the Fort Ross Interpretive Association advisory board, said “it's crucial we use this year as a launchpad for the future.”
In the absence of state money, significant funding for the Fort Ross bicentennial celebration, as well as park infrastructure, is coming from the Renova Group of Companies, a Russian multinational with interests in mining, oil, energy, telecommunications and nanotechnology.
Two hundred years ago, the Russian American Company that came to area and erected Fort Ross, and Renova is helping to preserve that history.
It already has donated $1.2 million for park programs, including a $160,000 donation to replace the roof on a historic Russian structure. The foundation also has contributed $120,000 to refurbish the visitor center, which houses Kashia artifacts and history.
“This is one of the unprecedented examples of cultures coming together, working together,” said Olga Miller, chief executive director of the Renova's U.S. representative officer and head of the Renova Fort Ross Foundation.
Almost three years ago, the Russian government wrote to then California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asking him to consider the historic value of Fort Ross.
The park is now essentially closed half the calendar year, said Sarah Sweedler, executive director of the Fort Ross Interpretive Association.
The money that Renova and other corporate sponsors, including Chevron, donate is helping to preserve the park, said Sweedler. But she said the foundation is not looking at such funding as a permanent revenue source.
"I realize this is our 15 minutes of fame," she said. "My job is to keep this park open and thriving long into the future."
Violet Parrish-Chappell, 80, of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians talks with Russian Consul General Vladimir Vinokurov at Fort Ross State Historic Park on Saturday after a blessing kicking off the Bicentennial of Fort Ross. In background, right, is state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa.
KENT PORTER/The Press Democrat
Kent Porter / PD
Russian Consul General Vladimir Vinokurov at Fort Ross State Historic Park, Saturday Jan. 21, 2012 attends the Bicentennial of Fort Ross. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012
2012-01-29 "Russia renews historic ties to Pomos of Fort Ross" by Carl Nolte from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
A highly unusual ceremony took place last weekend at Fort Ross, the endangered California state park on the Sonoma coast, 90 miles north of San Francisco. Indians from the Kashaya band of the Pomo tribe bestowed a formal blessing on what was once a Russian colony.
It was a rainy day, but the sun came out just as a Kashaya elder placed a ceremonial necklace made of abalone shells and other natural material around the neck of Vladimir Vinokurov, the Russian consul general in San Francisco.
"It was a very touching moment," Vinokurov said at a reception at the Russian Consulate in San Francisco on Thursday night. "Russia is re-establishing its relationship with the Kashaya people after 200 years."
Caught in crunch
This year is the bicentennial of Fort Ross, but like all state parks, it is caught in California's budget crunch. It is open only on weekends, and if things don't improve in Sacramento, the park may close.
But the Renova Group, one of the biggest private companies in Russia, stepped up to help. Renova spent $1 million on deferred maintenance at Fort Ross last year and is expected to spend another million this year. However, the state still pays the operating cost, and the prospects for the park are grim, said Sarah Sweedler, executive director of the nonprofit Fort Ross Conservancy.
All this would have been hard to believe back in the Cold War days, when the Bay Area was ringed with Nike missile sites to shoot down Russian bombers.
Different times -
Things are different now. Two years ago, the missile cruiser Varyag, flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, paid a visit to San Francisco, followed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who stopped by Twitter's headquarters, where he sent a San Francisco tweet.
Russia has been interested in San Francisco for a long time. Vinokurov said it goes back to 1806, when Count Nicolai Rezanov had a romance with Concepcion Arguello, the daughter of the comandante of the Spanish Presidio of San Francisco.
Rezanov sailed away, promising to return, but died in Siberia months later. Concepcion waited for him for years, spurning all others. "A beautiful love story," Vinokurov said.
The Russians were interested in a base for their sea otter hunting operations and also needed California sunshine to grow vegetables and fruit for their colony in Alaska.
In the spring of 1812 - 200 years ago this year - Alexandrovich Kuskov founded Fortress Ross on a bluff a few miles north of Port Rumiantsev, now called Bodega Bay.
The Russians built a wooden wall, a fort and gardens. They planted grapes. They built California's first oceangoing ship at Fort Ross and the first windmill. They also hunted the sea otters almost to extinction, near the Farallones and even inside San Francisco Bay.
1816 visit -
A Russian scientific expedition visited the bay in 1816, and naturalists discovered and identified the California poppy. Artists drew pictures of Bay Area wildlife, including grizzly bears and sea lions. They sketched the native people dancing in front of Mission Dolores. But they also noted how the mission Indians died "in an alarming and increasing proportion."
The Russians had no such trouble at Fort Ross. They employed the Kashaya people, taught some of them Russian and married others.
"But they did not force us to convert," said Emilio Valencia, who has just been elected chairman of the Kashaya and attended Thursday's reception at the consulate in San Francisco. "The children did not have to live in a boarding school, and we were not forced to stop speaking our language."
The Russians left Ross in 1841, but the Kashaya are still there. And in their tradition, they have good memories of the Russian interlude on the Sonoma coast.
"It's part of our history," said Vinokurov, "a good part of our history."