When He-Lo Ramirez was a young boy, he spent summers with his father living off the land in the Feather River Canyon and the surrounding mountains. They would catch rainbow trout in icy streams, pick plump wild grapes from the vines, and dig in soft soils to find wild onions, subsisting as their ancestors had done since time immemorial.

As he remembers the thrill of it all, he hopes to share that joy with a new generation of children and in doing so, inspire them with a passion for consuming wild plants and conserving the natural world.

“The earth itself just needs to be tended, and it will take care of you in return,” said He-Lo, who is Mechoopda.

This summer, he promotes conservation concepts as one of nine Chico State Fellows in the California Climate Action Corps, a new AmeriCorps pilot program supported locally by campus and community partners. and University Advancement. With a bold mission and a service-oriented corps of approximately 230, it strives to empower Californians to protect the climate, reduce environmental impacts, and protect the health of the community.

He-Lo developed the idea of ​​a scholarship based on traditional ecological knowledge (TEC). Its premise is to educate the general public – especially young people – about food sovereignty, native plants and their uses, and the critical need for pollinators and supportive habitats, building on the volunteer work that He -Lo has been at Chico State for years.

After graduating with his BSc in Biological Sciences in 2019, He-Lo completed his teaching degree and enrolled in the first cohort of the MSc in Forest Management. He continues to work in the Tribal Relations Office, where he helped create an Indigenous cultural tour and establish a traditional campus gathering program. He also works as a cultural steward and forest firefighter at the University’s Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve, combining his rich personal knowledge and education with his passion for conservation.

Elementary students spent an hour strolling along the shores of Big Chico Creek, listening to TEK fellows talk about traditional uses of plants.

On a recent weekday, He-Lo and another TEK scholar, second student Frankie Torres, welcomed two dozen students from Bidwell Junior High to campus for a cultural and ecological tour along the shores of Big Chico Creek.

Niki já sum He-Lo. My name is He-Lo, ”He-Lo told the children. “Hétynajem. It means “greetings” or “hello, everyone. “

He began with a brief history of the founder of the town of Chico, John Bidwell, the namesake of their school, and explained how he employed the Mechoopda on his lands after they were withdrawn from their native lands on the Big Watersheds. Chico Creek and Butte Creek. In the context of the California Indian legal slave trade at this time, Bidwell offered protection and paid fair wages, but also deprived the Mechoopda of their culture and vital connection to the natural world, He-Lo said. . The students listened to him quietly as he told them that the village of Mechoopda was where Holt Hall is today.

The Mechoopda origin story begins with the creation of the world here in Chico, He-Lo said, adding that the area was once rich in wildlife like elk, bears and antelopes and covered in native plants including the ló: wi (valley oaks) towering above the heads of the students, who supported the Mechoopda for centuries. As he explained the laborious process of turning acorns into flour, Torres handed out acorns in an abalone shell and samples of built (acorn flour) that children can touch.

“It’s so sweet,” one girl said, gently touching the powder in her palm.

Growing up in the rural forests of Clipper Mills, Torres never really tied his Paiute identity to his diet. As another TEK member, he said he was fascinated by discovering the rich history of plants that have surrounded him for so long, their intrinsic value hidden from plain sight.

“It’s great to work with He-Lo because he’s pretty much an expert,” said Torres, a criminal justice student. “Learning all of this and being able to appreciate natural life is great.”

A child holds almond flour in the palm of his hand.
Each student was given a small envelope of acorn flour as He-Lo explained the arduous process of turning acorns into flour that can be used for a variety of basic food items.

While the students listened, fascinated, He-Lo told stories about the use múnmuni (mugwort) and bay leaves as an insect deterrent to protect their crop, by weaving baskets against Lili (Western redbud), fishing for salmon in Big Chico Creek and using fire as a conservation tool. He compared acorn flour to what children would use for home baking and cooking. pimmili (California wild grapes) to grocery store ones — the same color, but smaller and with lots of seeds.

“Part of learning is that cool factor, being able to identify plants, but I also want them to see value – ‘I have a connection to that, so now I care'” , did he declare.

While He-Lo and Torres led their tour, the high school students rubbed plants between their fingers and inhaled deeply, plucked young green grapes from the vines, and sprinkled their guides with questions about other uses of plants, catch grasshoppers, and what acorn stew looks like.

“I am a proponent of place-based learning and hands-on learning,” He-Lo said. “People learn best when they touch things and you talk about them. I want to make it fun, engaging and applicable.

He capped off the visit by handing out small packages of native California wildflowers and telling the children to plant them in the fall. When yarrow, red monkey flower, and California poppies grow, they will support insects and other life forms that depend on them.

“If we get enough people to plant them in Chico, native pollinators can jump from neighborhood to neighborhood,” he said.

Later this summer, young people from the Mechoopda tribe will be on a similar tour, as will students from Four Winds of Indian Education.

Meanwhile, other Climate Action Fellows are working with the University’s Director of Energy and Sustainability; an interdivisional partnership for first-term students; the Butte Environmental Council; and the Paradise Recreation and Park District. Transit and alternative trail efforts, climate education conferences and workshops, as well as events and activities for community members and students will advance climate action and climate education early on. of the fall session.

He-Lo Ramirez holds out a branch of wild grapes that students can touch near a campus bridge.
Wild grapes may be smaller and have more seeds than what students know in a grocery store, but they were an integral part of the Mechoopda diet.

Over 10 weeks, scholarship students will devote 250 hours to on-the-ground climate action and climate education, and spend an additional 50 hours on mentoring and professional development. In return, they earn a living allowance of $ 4,000 and a scholarship of $ 1,300 to cover their university expenses.

“Our students care about this job, but they usually have to earn money over the summer to get back to campus,” said Emilyn Sheffield, Director of the Scholarship Program. “The California Climate Action Corps provides a way for students to hone and apply their leadership skills, receive financial support for educational expenses, and help our service area.”

Sheffield said the University’s campus and community partner network and academic advancement have been essential in creating these opportunities for our students and recent graduates.

“And the fellows, in turn, will create opportunities for others to contribute to positive climate activities now and in the future,” she said.

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