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Jodie Ramirez, Carrissa Engle, Haroleen Bowlan, Logan Ramirez, Colt Engle, Levi Ramirez, Tom Wheeler, Sandy Clark - photo by Gina Clugston

Sierra Mono Museum – “We’re Still Here Today, Taking Care Of Things”

NORTH FORK — The Sierra Mono Museum is one of the cultural treasures of the Central Sierra, and is self-sustaining — with no funding from the county, state or federal governments.

The Western Mono people once shared and called home a wide swath of territory running from the modern landmarks of Yosemite in the north to the Tulare watershed in the south, and the crests of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the east to the Central Valley in the west: an area of diverse, majestic fauna, flora, and geography encompassing nearly 10,000 square miles and over six-million acres.

Modern Western Mono tribal entities, now holding a tiny fraction of their ancestral lands, include the federally-recognized Rancherias of North Fork, Big Sandy, Cold Springs and Table Mountain, as well as the Dunlap Band of Mono Indians, Dumna Wo-Wah, and North Fork Mono.

For more than 50 years, the Sierra Mono Museum has been protecting and preserving Western Mono Indian culture, artifacts and language from its facility in the small Sierra foothills community of North Fork. For nearly as long, the Museum has also been organizing and hosting its annual Indian Fair Days and Pow Wow in Madera County in Central California.

Elder Leona Chepo explains how the organization came to be, decades ago.

Back then, our Western Mono culture felt threatened. Our official tribes were being abandoned by the federal government and our people were losing their cultural belongings, including baskets. Sometimes these were destroyed — burned as part of our traditions for when somebody walks on. Sometimes they were sold at the local tavern for booze money because people were so poor and desperate. We needed to stop all that. That’s why we started the Sierra Mono Museum in the mid ‘60s and we’re still here today, taking care of things. – Leona Chepo, Western Mono Elder, Citizen of North Fork Rancheria

Mono Indian baskets – photo Sierra Mono Museum

The Sierra Mono Museum is home to the largest displays of Mono Indian basketry in California. Inside the Museum there are many artifacts and baskets on display donated and on loan by members of the Mono Tribe.

Other collections on exhibit include weapons, traditional games, ceremonial items, tools, and beautiful beaded crafts. Also on display is the Tettelton Wildlife Collection including dioramas and over 100 freestanding taxidermy animals from Northern America, Asia, and South America.

The museum receives no federal, state or city funds for general operating expenses. It is supported by membership fees, donations, gift store sales and grant funds. The Sierra Mono Indian Museum has been a private, non profit 501(c)3 institution governed by a Board of Directors since May 9, 1966. Visiting the museum offers a glimpse at Mono Indian lifestyles of yesterday and today.

In celebration of this milestone anniversary, over the course of the next year, the Museum’s “Half-Century” fundraising campaign will seek to raise awareness, support, and short-term operating funds for the state’s first wholly-owned-and-run Native historical museum. The nonprofit will offer a series of community information sessions, public education materials, special events, and hold membership drives.

Colt Engle and Levi Ramirez at 2017 Pow Wow – photo by Gina Clugston

The campaign officially kicked off at the Museum’s 47th Annual Indian Fair Days and PowWow on Aug. 5 – 6, at Minarets High School in O’Neals.

The capital campaign will conclude with a charity golf tournament and Gala Dinner scheduled for Spring 2018. Proceeds from the campaign will supplement Museum revenues, currently derived almost entirely through private donations, modest museum entrance and membership fees, and proceeds from its annual event.

The Museum is a 501(c)3 nonprofit institution. Memberships and/or donations may be tax deductible as a charitable contribution.

Please join the Western Mono and North Fork community in supporting this cultural gem of the Central Sierra as we embark on a second half-century of curating the traditions and artifacts of the Western Mono people.

More about the Sierra Mono Museum and the Western Mono:

The Sierra Mono Museum was incorporated in 1966 as a nonprofit organization when it began assembling its collections. The Museum acquired land for its facility in 1970 and opened its doors the next year.

The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California, a federally-recognized Indian tribe headquartered in North Fork, is the Museum’s grant partner and has submitted a formal application for an Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG) to undertake expansion/renovation at the Museum and is serving as the campaign’s chief underwriter.

For more information on the campaign, please contact:


Traditional Heritage Now: Indian Fair Days And Pow Wow

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