Spotlight on a Native Organization: California Indian Museum and Cultural Center

Spotlight on a Native Organization: California Indian Museum and Cultural Center

The California Indian Museum and Cultural Center (CIMCC) is Native-operated non-profit based in Santa Rosa, California. CIMCC is dedicated to educating the public about and showcasing California Indian history and culture.

In 2010, CIMCC started a Tribal Youth Ambassador Program that recently sent a group of talented Native youth to Reservation Economic Summit 2020 for the Native Youth Business Plan Competition. The team won the competition and $7,500 to help get their business venture, Acorn Bites, off the ground. The business started after discovering that many members of local Native communities were interested in being more connected to traditional indigenous foods, the students in the program came up with the idea for Acorn Bites. Acorn Bite’s goal is to make traditional food more accessible. Before the pandemic, the youth business leaders were selling the product at local farmers’ markets. Due to efforts led by the students behind Acorn Bites you can now order online at www.acornbites.com and pick up your order curbside!

We recently learned more about the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, Acorn Bites, and how both the organization and new business venture had to adjust to the pandemic. We hope you enjoy our conversation. Keep reading to learn more!

1. Tell us about the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center?

The California Indian Museum and Cultural Center is a Native-owned and operated non-profit that was established in 1996. The purpose of CIMCC is to culturally enrich and benefit the people of California and the general public. The goals of the Museum and Cultural Center are to educate the public about California Indian history and cultures, to showcase California Indian cultures, to enhance and facilitate these cultures and traditions through educational and cultural activities, to preserve and protect California Indian cultural and intellectual properties, and to develop relationships with other indigenous groups.

Through our cultural center we established a Tribal Youth Ambassador Program in 2010 that functions as a service-learning program for cultural revitalization projects that positively impact our tribal community. Youth ages 12-25, from local Pomo and Miwok tribes, engage in learning new skills and tools that ultimately guide them to becoming young leaders in our community. In 2016 our youth began a journey with us to assess food sovereignty and food security among the 24+ tribes in our region. Out of that assessment we learned that tribal community members would like to be more connected to their traditional foods.

Inspired by community member responses, participants in the Youth Ambassador Program created a product that strives to make traditional food more accessible, that product being an acorn bite. This idea came into fruition when youth sat together and thought, why not make a protein bar type of product but with acorns? Since then the youth have worked with Chef Crystal Wahpepah to develop the product and quickly moved on to making it a product available in their community at local farmers markets. 

2. How has the Center been affected by COVID-19?

CIMCC has been closed to the public as of last March 2020. We are still working on our re-opening plan as the safety of community members is our number one priority. Despite our location being closed to the public, we quickly shifted to offering our programming virtually for our community. Our youth meetings shifted to the world of Zoom and outdoor activities with strict COVID prevention protocols that allowed the youth to keep learning about their traditional foods and gathering practices. Our popular Healing through Cultural Arts series thrived online as tribal community members from Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties gathered with us virtually to be in community and learn about and complete traditional arts projects, while making it a priority to cope from the impacts the pandemic has had in our community. Lastly, we paused the acorn bites business venture’s participation at local farmers markets and our youth transitioned to offering curbside pick-up. Meanwhile, the youth learned about how to set up their business’ online sales option.

Overall, this year has been difficult as we saw ourselves and our community experience immense loss during the height of the pandemic. However, we worked our best to support ourselves and our community while the pandemic impacts continue to lessen in our community. 

3. How has your model changed since the pandemic started?

Acorn Bites changed significantly, as we no longer relied on in person sales as being the main source of revenue. Our Tribal Youth Ambassadors quickly moved on to learn how to make online Acorn Bites sales a possibility and make curbside pick-up an option. As COVID-19 restrictions lift in our region we will continue to re-assess the safety and options available to make in-person sales an option once more. Recently, orders from across the state have flooded our online orders. Our youth are excited to continue developing their business model to include sales in local health stores. 

4. What advice would you give to aspiring Native entrepreneurs?

We would encourage aspiring Native entrepreneurs to follow their dreams and begin the journey of setting up their business venture. There are amazing Native business models that can inspire and guide you, and we encourage everyone looking to set up a business to make connections with others and take the first steps needed to build their business and prepare to thrive. 

5. How has The National Center helped your endeavors?

Last year, the National Center provided our California Indian Museum and Cultural Center’s Tribal Youth Ambassador leaders with invaluable training in the field of business. Not only were our youth able to learn directly from Native business leaders from across the United States, they were also able to share their story and inspire other youth to pursue their business dreams. Our youth were very grateful to have been able to participate in the business competition and elevate their project among respected Native American business and economic leaders.

Our youth left the 2020 Reservation Economic Summit last year with new knowledge from the business development sessions and were eager to apply it to their Acorn Bites business venture. To their immense excitement they were also winners in the Native youth business competition. They were grateful to have left with an award that aided them in continuing to develop their business venture. To learn more about their food sovereignty centered business project please visit our website at: www.acornbites.com

 Learn more about the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center at: www.cimcc.org

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *