Marshall McKay’s address

Photo: Marshall McKay

What matters to Marshall McKay, chairman of the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, is developing new endeavors to strengthen tribal communities in the areas of culture and language, in the arts, in economic development, in the environment, in politics and education. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis photo)

Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef's introduction

Our next speaker is Marshall McKay, chairman of the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians and a member of our UC Davis Foundation Board. He is strongly interested in the renaissance of Native American culture and in building community.

We are grateful for his tribe’s abiding support of UC Davis, including a significant gift for this Center for the Performing Arts when we most needed it, and two endowed chairs — one in Native American Studies and another in Pediatric Endocrinology.

That faith and generosity have surely enabled UC Davis to do more that truly “matters.” Chairman McKay?

Marshall McKay’s address

What an honor it is for me to be here today to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of this university and to congratulate the UC Davis community on your continuing efforts to move this institution along in its pursuit of excellence.

I speak personally and for our Yocha-De-He Nation in expressing appreciation for the abounding support you have given to us in so many of our endeavors — your generosity and willingness to help us in our growth towards better health, education, cultural renewal and appreciation of the arts and sciences.

When I reflect on this last century for tribal people, doing what matters is no less profound than turning the tide from near-extinction to survival and even prosperity.

The prospectors who flocked to California in the mid-19th century to mine for gold confiscated lands and enslaved and massacred the native Indians who had lived here for thousands of years. Over a 36-year period, nearly 100,000 Indians were killed.

In 1907, our Wintun grandfathers were forced off ancestral lands and placed on a federally created rancheria in Rumsey, Calif.

As I stand with you today, 100 years later, I can tell you that we are at an exciting time and place — a time of realizing the beauty and spirit of California’s native people.

Realizing the intellect and creativity and tenacity of our people. Realizing our tribal community innovation and adaptation. And realizing self-determination. California tribes are here, not just as surviving people, but here fully participating in our lives, in our cultures, in our traditional life ways.

We have entered this new millennium with newfound vigor and resolve. Our populations are growing. We are a younger population.

Today one third of our native population is under the age of 18. We are increasingly developing new endeavors to strengthen our tribal communities in the areas of culture and language, in the arts, in economic development, in the environment, in politics and education.

Tribes are striving for economic self-sufficiency. During the last decade we have experienced increases in real per capita income, growth in household income, decreases in unemployment and family poverty, and a rise in percentage of college graduates.

But all is not well yet in Indian country. We still have work to do. The policies of self-determination are under constant pressure.

There are discouraging disparities in numerous socio-economic indicators across Indian country. The death rate from preventable diabetes is four times greater than the U.S. population, the Indian teen rate for illicit drug use is twice that of the national teen, personal income is less than half the U.S. level, and Indian family poverty is three times the national rate.

We are addressing these issues. For example, when the Yocha-De-He Nation funded the Rumsey Endowed Chair in Pediatric Endocrinology at UC Davis, we saw it as an important step toward preventing diabetes in the group who holds our future: our youth.

Many of our tribal communities are in the process of nation building. We are asserting our tribal sovereignty by strengthening our institutions and governance.

We continue investing in our social development — like the fire departments, schools, and wellness centers we are seeing across Indian country.

We are in a great place to address our cultures and languages, to consider bringing our ancestors home on our own terms, to talk about art and our creative expressions, to restore health and balance and harmony.

We are grateful to have a neighbor like UC Davis to partner with us on this restoration.

The first university in the nation to have a Department of Native American Studies, UC Davis has a commitment to advancing scholarly knowledge while also attending to the needs of native communities.

Knowing this, we funded the Rumsey Rancheria Endowed Chair in California Indian Studies in order to benefit all native people in California. Today, the funds from that chair are being used to help revitalize California native languages.

Today we are in a hopeful place. And we take seriously the responsibility for ensuring that our progress continues by doing what matters for the seven generations to come.

I join with the leadership of my Yocha-De-He People, and with our friends and supporters at UC Davis, in pledging our commitment to this continued growth, and I thank you for inviting me here to share this important day with you.

Before I leave you, I would like to share one last idea: I like to think of the California native tribes as a beautiful tapestry created by some of our talented artists.

Each fiber that goes into the fabric is unique and beautiful. Each thread varies in length, width, color and texture, but each complements the other and helps to create the total design.

Each must be in place in order to see the entire work. If one simple thread is taken out or becomes loose, it begins to disintegrate and the tapestry starts to unravel and lose its beautiful form.

The tribes in California together form their own tapestry. Each is a thread with a different background, history, membership and interests.

When we work together, we create a balanced picture of tribal life in California. This is especially true when we assert our sovereignty and can fully manifest what California Indians really are.

We are not another demographic that can be controlled by the state. We are each our own sovereign nation that can do — and is doing — much to contribute to the human race. Welay Boh!

Marshall McKay is chairman of the Tribal Council of the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians and a trustee for the UC Davis Foundation Board.