Courtesy Clayton Franklin
Reno Keoni Franklin, chairman, Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, at the California State Capitol, Sacramento.

Chairman Reno Keoni Franklin: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

Dennis Zotigh

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Reno Keoni Franklin, chairman of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians. I’m also first past chairman of the National Indian Health Board, the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, and the California Rural Indian Health Board, and former vice chairman of the Sonoma County Indian Health Project.

Can you give us your Native name and its English translation?

I choose to teach who I am: My name is Reno Keoni Franklin; my family comes from the Kashaya village of Aca sine kawa li. I am the son of Dino Walter Franklin and Pearlann Kuulani Makaiwi, grandson of Adrienne Mae Franklin (Smith), great-grandson of Walter and Sara Smith (Antone), and great-great-grandson of Robert Smith and Minnie Salvador.

Where is your Native nation located?

The Kashia Band of Pomo Indians lives in northwest California, along the coast in Sonoma County.

Where was the Kashia Band originally from?

We are fortunate to remain in our traditional lands.

What is a significant point in history from your nation that you would like to share?

Our first sustained contact with non-Indians was with the Russians in 1812. They landed on the shores of our village Metini and were originally known to us as the “undersea people.” In 1817, the Kashia signed a treaty with the Russians—the Treaty of Hagemeister—and allowed the Russians to build Fort Ross, which quickly became a thriving trade port along the California Coast that brought in Natives (and traders) from Hawaii to Alaska. Our relationship was not a perfect one, but it was much better than the experience of our neighboring tribes, who suffered greatly at the hands of the Spanish, Mexicans, and later groups of white settlers.

The Kashaya way of life would never be the same, but because of strong traditional leadership and a deeply rooted foundation in culture and religion, we are still here. Our language is still spoken, our ceremonies are still practiced, and we are still a strong people.

While much is said of the good relationship with the Russians, it is important to note that there were groups of Kashia who didn’t like the Russians' prolonged stay and occasionally burned their fields or killed their non-Kashia workers to remind them of whose land they were on. Still, the Russians would not kill a Kashia, and many of our people who committed crimes were instead shipped to a Russian prison on the Farallon Islands. After the Russians left, our tribal members were set free. In one memorable story, two Russian Soldiers were hung for abusing a Kashia woman.

Our history has its dark times, and I encourage our members not to forget that those dark moments existed, but also not to let them define who we are.


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