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Rez Notes: Manchester-Point Arena

My step-grandfather, Lawrence Pike, was a Pomo from the Coast of Mendocino County. We used to call them “Coast Injuns,” although I suppose that is too insensitive for times like these. I recall a trip to visit his sister at the reservation in Manchester. We had slept in the car the previous night. L.P. just pulled up to the edge of a bluff somewhere north of Point Arena and that was where we “camped.” It was an exciting, windy night and the front seat felt like it was floating over the beach. He told us stories about bear doctors and ghost cowboys until late in the night. We kids played cards and drank root beer and pretended that we weren't afraid.

One story involved L.P. getting tailed as he walked along the beach many years earlier. He had to work hard to shake the being that was following him at the time. It didn't matter much whether it was a true bear or a bear doctor. He really didn't want an encounter with either.

Another story was about the time that he discovered a den where a doctor donned the bearsuit. This particular cave was located on the Ukiah side of the Boonville Road. He pointed it out to us on the return trip. I don't recall exactly how he discovered this lair. I have also been told that if you discover a bear doctor changing, that you are entitled to a pretty substantial gift — or to be murdered. Needless to say, I don't go looking very hard.

When we finally stopped at his sister's place the next morning, she called me “the white one,” which got a big laugh. I wasn't sure if it was my skin, hair color or the fact that I was carrying a book. Most probably, it was all three. (My nickname as a kid was “Professor Von Zipper.”) These folks were much darker than I am or certainly was at that time. I tried not to be too offended by the razzing as I already knew that teasing is how Pomo show respect. If you don't get teased, it's because you aren't seen as strong or fun enough to take it. This is a trait that is appreciated to varying degrees in my relationships to this day. I try to be mindful and exhibit cultural competency, but it's difficult.

Later in life, I was dispatched to this same rez in my role as Housing Authority Maintenance Assistant to repair the astounding number of broken toilets, missing window screens and leaky sinks in the low-income reservation housing project. Every time we visited that place, there was another batch of fist-holes in the walls. I got pretty adept at patching those. I find it a good measure of the frustration level of the residents. For every three or four fist-punched holes, it looked as if someone's head had been shoved through. I didn't ask questions.

I am not very informed on the current state of affairs at this rez, but it sounds like they have a casino. I hope it helps. The land is beautiful and, as you all know, jobs are scarce. My one recommendation to all would be not to roam around there at night. You might get answers to questions that you didn't even ask.

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