As my colleague and I continue to file Barbara’s materials into their designated folders, I was fortunate enough to stake my claim over filing her research on ethnobotany, plants and vegetation. As I was doing so, I couldn’t help but think of climate change. As a gen y/gen z cusp, I have known most of my life that the planet was suffering from our wanton abuses of its many resources.

This made me think about the machinations under which our elected leaders, and elected leaders abroad, stand idly by while the planet dies before our eyes. They retain no urgency. They seemingly retain no foresight. They don’t mind if the planet is in an irreversible spiral by the time we inherit it. It is not lost on me that the world will likely look different in 10, 15, or 20 years. However, by that same tenor it is not lost on me that we might continue to see our natural resources stripped away, laid barren or depleted in the name of commercialization during that same time.

Barbara, and her ancestors that came before her, put an unmistakable emphasis on plant-based skills and food, while simultaneously cataloguing geographically relevant biodiversity as they went on. One of the most valuable things I have learned from Barbara’s collection is the incredible biodiversity represented in California, and specifically Los Angeles County. It appears to me, from her materials, that Indigenous peoples have a mutual respect for the earth. They have been exceptional stewards of the earth for centuries. And yet, colonization has deprived all of us existing today of a planet in good health. Instead, the exploitative nature of our commercialized industries and agriculture have painted us into a corner where we are rapidly losing resources and garnering natural disasters. Poignantly, Barbara’s materials allow any observer to be a more careful steward of our ailing planet. In her materials, one can find plant-based recipes that incrementally contribute to a potential decrease in the demand for animal products. In her materials, one can find instructions and suggestions on how to garden, fish and hunt, allowing the reader to devise strategies for a decreased reliance on industrialized means of production.

Simply put, there’s something worth knowing in Barbara’s collection for everyone, especially environmentalists.

Dull Knife, the Cheyenne and the Pursuit of Self-Determination

What constitutes a hero? Some might be tempted to list attributes, deeds, or point to a righteous struggle in which one emerges victorious. I have come to understand that heroes are mainly subjective, and many who are heroic are not catalogued the way, or to the extent, they deserved. Many Native Americans displayed unabashed heroism when colonizers encroached on their land, families, livestock and livelihood. One of these was Dull Knife of the Northern Cheyenne Nation.

I was particularly moved by the story of Dull Knife, the Cheyenne and their hard fought struggle to remain autonomous. Dull Knife was no stranger to resistance or battle, he fought in the Cheyenne-Arapahoe War, the Sioux Wars of the Northern Plains, and fought alongside Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull during the War for the Black Hills. The Native Americans were underestimated, and after each battle they, along with their Chiefs, made their formidable posture known. As such, General George Crook coordinated a surprise attack on Dull Knife’s camp. Those who survived fled and surrendered elsewhere. Subsequently, they were forced onto a reservation in Oklahoma that touted little game, unfamiliar weather and was host to diseases.

In 1878, Dull Knife and 300 others fled, unable to bare the deplorable conditions the colonizers had provided for them. They all began a 1000 mile journey with a single step. On this journey they were forced to split up, reconfigure and eventually surrender at Ft. Robinson. A year after the death of Dull Knife, the Northern Cheyenne were granted the Tongue River Reservation in Montana.

The later years of Dull Knife’s life were marked with struggle, oppression, concealment and brutalization. He never lived to see the small consolation of a reservation, closer to their home of Wyoming, awarded to his people. Even so, he never wavered in his struggle for freedom. He never caved to the proposals of assimilation or displacement, and no matter how hard the white invaders tried, they could never scrub history of his influence or his stature. Rather, like many Native American Chiefs, his struggle casts a large shadow over society 150 years later. The shadow of his heroism, and the heroism of those like Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, eclipse the American platitude of “liberty and justice for all”. When one takes the time to learn about those like Dull Knife, they are met with the duty to acknowledge that we are truly an imperfect nation, founded by imperialism. Barbara’s collection reminds me that the term “Founding Fathers” is a misnomer. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, nor the others founded this land. On the contrary, it was the ancestors of those like Dull Knife and Barbara herself who are true founders.

Dull Knife of the Northern Cheyenne
One of Barbara’s pieced of literature regarding Dull Knife

Keeping History Alive

I am happy to report that after weeks of poring through Barbara’s materials, the CCEPS team has finally divided all materials into subject-specific categories. These subject-specific categories correspond to parent thematic categories that will span the entire collection. As we move past this phase, I would like to share some key words I think encompass the spirit of this collection.

The first is historical. Barbara took incredible measures to preserve information relating to her Native American heritage. These span all types of mediums. She had newspaper clippings, magazine clippings, article print-outs, Indigenous curriculums, and many more elements. Similarly, Barbara did not only go through the trouble of preserving information regarding the Tongva/Gabrielino, she had an incredible wealth of knowledge regarding other Indigenous nations. She has information pertaining to the Sioux, Chumash, Navajo, Nez Perce, Cheyenne and many others. In other words, Barbara’s collection is useful for anyone that seeks to learn any facet of American history. There can be no true American history without the understanding of the Indigenous history that preceded it.

The second is community-oriented. Not only are the materials of the Drake collection an essential resource for anyone interested in history, they also retain great interest for those who are seeking to organize. What I’ve gleaned from Barbara’s collection is that she was an incredible organizer, her personal projects– ranging from the Chia Café Collective to Preserving Our Heritage– were never free from cause, purpose or diversity. Furthermore, she took the time to retain documents (flyers, brochures, itineraries, etc.) from other sources of Indigenous community engagement. These documents serve as formidable blueprints for anyone looking for ways to mobilize or embrace their own community.

The last is representative. A common thread through the whole of the Drake collection is the elevation and centrality of Indigenous voices, perspectives and character. This representation is desperately needed in today’s society, while many underserved communities are still fighting for a seat at the table, or some measure of justice. This is one of the many reasons the value of the Drake collection can not be overstated, it embodies the perspective of a beloved Tongva elder who was diligent in the pursuit of teaching and learning about her culture.

Barbara appeared to be a life long learner, it’s apropos that her collection encourages the same.

Barbara Drake in print, covered by the press for her efforts in Native American education