BY RACHAEL M. GUSTUSON
For the Record Gazette
No stranger to local history and culture, the Banning Library now presents live historical programs and has been doing so since 2019 (with COVID-19 restrictions).
On Aug. 13, attendees learned the back-story on “We Are Birds, A California Native Story,” a documentary project on Native culture in California through bird songs.
The highly acclaimed documentary project was chosen as a Native FilmFest Selection 2020 Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians International Idyllwild Festival of Cinema Selection and Winner of Native Film Award 2018.
Filmmaker Albert Chacon presented a behind the scenes glimpse at the documentary and the current social movement of Native storytelling to a new audience in Banning on Aug. 13.
Francisco Ramos, historian for the Banning Library District, said Chacon “created a special presentation just for this exhibition. It was a live and video presentation.”
The Californian Cahuilla and other Native cultures have shared song and dance traditions, including bird songs, for thousands of years. Some of the songs were sung during migration.
When the climate became too hot or too cold, the clan would move to another geographical location. The songs tell the story of the migration. Various tribes in California each have their own bird songs, each with specific messages.
The bird songs are sung in conjunction with a gourd rattle.
There’s a growing movement to preserve the oral tradition and cultural practice.
Banning Library historian Ramos feels passionate about preserving that education and culture.
“I believe the ‘coolest’ thing about the presentation was the human aspect,” said Ramos. “How over centuries of performances and oral story telling, this Native tradition has preserved so much of California Native American culture alive, despite adversity in so many ways.”
Assembly member James Ramos is the first California Native American elected to the state legislature. Ramos represents the 40th Assembly district, which includes Highland, Loma Linda, Mentone, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, and San Bernardino. Ramos has a personal involvement with Bird Song.
He has performed traditional bird songs at various public events throughout the years, including at California’s First Cultures annual event held at Crafton Hills College, which stresses that tribal knowledge and historical preservation is sacred.
“Bird songs embody the stories of our people, our history,” said Ramos. “We almost lost them, but fortunately we had people like Mr. Robert Levi, who taught me the songs. Keeping our culture alive is critical to staying grounded. It’s why expanding the celebration of Native American Day has been so important to me including supporting student conferences at local universities and schools going back to 1999.”
Ramos authored the recent AB 855, which allows state court workers to exchange Columbus Day as a paid holiday for California Native American Day.
“I like to remind young people of the three things, once you have, no one can take away from you,” Ramos said. “They are education, culture, and spirituality.”
To learn more about Chacon's documentary, "We Are Birds, a California Native Story," visit YouTube and https://vimeo.com/153072118.
The Banning Library is located at 21 W Nicolet St., Banning.
The library is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The library is closed Sunday and major holidays.
Call (951) 849-3192 for more information on upcoming events.