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Researching the Tule River Tribe
Japanese woman interested in local Native American history
For the past 13 years, Dr. Kumiko Noguchi of Japan has been studying American Natives and their history.
“I started when I was 22 years old,” she said. “I’m now 34. My research is still going on. Maybe it will take a whole lifetime for me because there is so much.”
More recently, Noguchi has been interviewing elders and studying the culture and history of the Tule River Reservation Tribe.
Native American history is something she has been fascinated with since her fist visit to the United States at age 16, she said.
“I was kind of like an exchange student at the Idaho Reservation,” Noguchi said.
Noguchi said she witnessed culture discrimination, and realized, during that same time frame, that not much information was available on Native Americans in textbooks.
“Even here — there’s not much. Maybe a few pages here and there in a textbook or two, but not much,” Noguchi said. “I knew that in order to know America’s history, I need to know more of Native American history.”
Noguchi started visiting three reservations, the Tule River, and one each in Idaho and Arizona — with the vision that some day she will write a book on the findings.
The stories she has gathered, she said, have not been much of a surprise to her.
“What has surprised me is how much I have gotten involved in tribal issues and with the tribe,” Noguchi said.
Noguchi travels to the Tule Reservation twice a year, each February and every summer — each time staying with friends on the reservation.
“I have to stay there. I want to stay there,” she said. “The people from the Tule River is my primary reason for being there. I don’t want to learn just from documents. In order to truly understand, I want to focus on people.”
Noguchi said she wants to understand what their future plans are, the experiences they have learned from their ancestors and learned through their lives, she said.
“I want to write the tribal history from the Tule River perspective,” she said. “I love history. I love listening to the old history from the tribal members, especially the elders who are in their 70s and 80s. They just know a lot of things, from experience and from ancestor stories.”
The Tule River Tribe has welcomed Noguchi’s presence on the reservation, said Vernon Vera, a Tule Tribe member and descendant of one of the tribe’s oldest families.
“Additionally, her work was formally accepted by the Tribal Council in 2009, when she introduced herself and her project to them,” Vera said. “Kumi’s history project will be a valuable contribution to a comprehensive understanding of past tribal events and will answer questions about their origins, ancestral ties, spirituality, and their relationship to the outside world.”
Noguchi — who got her PhD from UC Davis in 2009 — wrote her dissertation on the history and organization of Native Americans in 2004.
In 2005, as a doctorate student, she talked to Jack Forbes about the history of California Native Americans and learned that they were rarely known.
“I started checking documents from national archives in San Bernardino and San Francisco state library and regional libraries,” she said. “I was looking for written and unwritten documents when I first started.”
Since then, Noguchi has also gotten a lot of help from Vera.
Vernon Vera was raised by his great-grandfather, Jose’ Vera, who was born on what is known as the Old Madden Farm, east of Porterville. Jose’ Vera moved to the present-day reservation site in the 1870s and resided there until he died.
“My involvement with Kumi’s history project is twofold. First, as a historical informant. My great-father related many stories and significant information about life on Madden Farm and early days on the Tule River Indian Reservation,” Vernon Vera said. “Secondly, I am assisting Kumi in coordinating contacts with tribal elders here on the reservation and in other areas where many of our people descended — Kernville, Lone Pine, Bishop.”
In addition, Vera — who has a bachelor’s degree in pre-law from the UC Santa Barbara and participated in a masters’ program in public historical studies at UCSB from 1989 to 1991, and since then has been involved in several aspects of writing grant proposals and authoring short articles relevant to tribal history and culture — is also assisting Noguchi by editing her work.
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045, or email@example.com.