A Tribe Called Red

Wintu descendent Marilyn Radcliff-Berkey recalls her great grandfather, last chief of a noble tribe.

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Treaty conclave and pow-wow. [Report] A hundred Native Americans from near and far gathered at Reading_Island - July 15, 2001. Seven tribes were represented, plus our friends in the dominant white "tribe." Greeting the peoples were local dignitaries including Shasta County Supervisor Molly Wilson and Redding Mayor Mark Cibula.             Ancient voices

Dream Songs and Ceremony
Frank R. LaPena

Frank LaPena's book is the closest thing to a prayer that any combination of words and art can be. Its sensitive evocation of place --- and the ancient relationships of Native people to a living landscape, is truly marvelous. I can think of no other book in recent years which succeeds so well on so many levels.

(Joseph Bruchac, poet and editor)

record searchlight
Honoring Her Wintu Past
Keeping heritage alive

Her relative was last chief of Wintu tribe

Sol Cranfill
Record Searchlight

Michael Burke

Marilyn Radcliff-Berkey holds a picture of her great-grandfather, Chol-chu-lu-li, the last chief of the Wintu Indian tribe. The spelling of his name remains a point of contention among some historians since the Wintu language was traditionally not written.

Not all of Marilyn Radcliff-Berkey's ancestors had European-sounding names.

Chol-chu-lu-li (pronounced Call chew LEW lee) was one. He is recognized by historians as the last Wintu Indian chief and was Radcliff-Berkey's great-grandfather. He died Jan. 15, 1902.

Information about his life and the American Indians he presided over as chief has been passed down a chain of descendants to Radcliff-Berkey, 62. Radcliff-Berkey still practices parts of that heritage today.

She has learned to hunt wild animals including the mountain lion that is now a rug in her home in Mountain Gate as well as how to make acorn soup and turn a plant into tea that she said can cure the symptoms of poison oak.

She encourages others to learn some of the same things.

''What I'm trying to share,'' Radcliff-Berkey said, is that her great-grandfather was ''very nice to the white people and that's the way all our Wintu tribe is. We hold no grudges, we have no chips on our shoulders.''

That comes as welcome news to one prominent citizen, who recently sat down in her home for some ''regular'' tea. Shasta County Supervisor Molly Wilson said she believes in what Radcliff-Berkey (pronounced Burr KAY) is doing.

''It's very important for future generations to know where we come from,'' Wilson said. ''I think people are interested in the way they lived then.''

Wilson said that in the dozen or so years she has known Radcliff-Berkey she has found her to be a woman who has ''a lot of wisdom and wants to make a difference.''

One way Radcliff-Berkey keeps the Wintu spirit alive is by tutoring children at the Local Indians For Education Center in Shasta Lake, where daughter Michelle Noonan teaches them the Wintu language.

Radcliff-Berkey is also working to gain official tribal recognition for the Wintus through the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

For that, she's getting help from longtime Redding attorney Frank Cibula, who said he provided free legal assistance to the Redding Rancheria before it was recognized.

The house in which Radcliff-Berkey lives once stood in Kennett, a community that became a watery ghost town after Shasta Dam was built.

The house was dismantled shortly before that by Radcliff-Berkey's maternal grandfather, Jim Reed, who then pieced it back together in Mountain Gate.

''It was good wood,'' Radcliff-Berkey explained.

The cemetery near the house's original location, where many of her ancestors were buried, was also moved. The bodies were exhumed and brought to the nearby land. Radcliff-Berkey cares for the site.

In the time since Chol-chu-lu-li died, oral history has been the primary means employed to keep his spirit alive, Radcliff-Berkey said. She can demonstrate it still in a free-flowing, storyteller manner.

But she wants the stories to count for more than entertainment, and reach more people.

To that end, she is writing a book she has tentatively titled ''Wintu Ways.''

The book is part of her life's purpose, growing more urgent with time, to preserve the Wintu history.

''I want to get this all down before I die,'' she said.

Radcliff-Berkey stays busy in her home, but she is always ready to give friends and neighbors a history lesson.

shasta college liason

Marilyn Radcliff-Berkey's daughter, Michelle Noonan, serves as the Project Director for Each One, Reach One as well as the Native American Community Liaison at Shasta College. She also has worked over 7 years as the Indian Education Coordinator at Gateway Unified School District. She is proud of her heritage and the Wintu culture and tradition.

And she likes to create her own bits of history, too. In the sewing room, where her grandfather died and her brother Robert was born, Radcliff-Berkey stitches quilts and other handiwork.

As she stretched out a piece of fabric recently with a print of an American Indian on horseback wearing a headdress, she remarked, ''He isn't a bad-looking Indian.''

Radcliff-Berkey said that she has lived her life trying to make sure her mother's admonition that as an American Indian she would always be ''one step back'' would never come true.

Radcliff-Berkey met her husband, Ted Berkey, after she wrecked her car and took it to his automobile body shop to be repaired.

They wed a short time later and will celebrate their 25th anniversary in December.

Radcliff-Berkey has five children and 21 grandchildren. She and her husband were foster parents to about 280 children for most of the past 22 years.

It didn't matter if they were ''white, black, Chinese or Indian,'' she said. ''Anybody who needed help.''

Ted Berkey, who is not American Indian, said attitudes toward American Indians have changed a lot in the last quarter-century. ''Years ago you were lower than low if you were an Indian,'' he said.

After white men arrived around the time of the Gold Rush, bitter and deadly fights often broke out with American Indians, including the Wintus, said Dottie Smith, curator of the Shasta College Museum.

But Smith said the Wintus were the most accepting of the white men.

Occasionally the Wintus even approved of marriages between white settlers and Wintu women, Smith said. Berkey's grandfather, Robert Radcliff, is an example. An Englishman, he married Sarah Chol-chu-lu-li, Berkey's grandmother.

Sarah's brother, Perrin Chol-chu-lu-li, liked the name so much that he decided to take it for himself, and became Perrin Radcliff.

Radcliff-Berkey encourages people who live in the north state to examine their homeland's past by gathering information on its history, told in places like the California Welcome Center in Anderson and the U.S. Forest Service Shasta Lake Information Center near Mountain Gate.

The Anderson center features on one of its walls a picture of Chol-chu-lu-li holding a bow and clinching an arrow between his teeth. It houses other Wintu artifacts.

Although historians differ widely over the correct spelling of the chief's name, Radcliff-Berkey believes it is Chol-chu-lu-li.

Soon, Radcliff-Berkey said she hopes to begin selling T-shirts in the Anderson center gift shop, emblazoned with that same picture of Chol-chu-lu-li.

Proceeds, she said, will go to help fund the work she is doing to get the tribe recognized.

Reporter Sol Cranfill

Record Searchlight 
Sunday, May 28
, 2000 

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