The Yucca Project

For more than a year, photographer Carlos Puma  and I have been chronicling the age-old relationship between Southern California Native Americans and the native yucca plant. 

From the masterful and beautiful arts of basketry and cordage, to the utilitarian arts of tools, essential food arts, and much more, yucca is Southern California’s super plant of fibers and foods. This relationship began in prehistoric times, and surprisingly, continues today, hundreds of years later.

As far as we can tell, we are the first to document and unify in one place the uses of yucca in numerous Native traditional arts. We focus especially on Yucca whipplei, known as 'umuch in Serrano, and panu'ul in Cahuilla. This yucca is the signature springtime plant of the chaparral landscape. Each plant takes years to start shooting from the ground. Once it does, every single part of the yucca plant through all its growth stages, even after death, supports a different, purposeful traditional art that is significant to Native cultures throughout Southern California. 

We are working closely with Elders as they share this traditional knowledge vital to cultural identity and history. Recently, the Alliance for California Traditional Arts honored us with a grant via the nonprofit Dorothy Ramon Learning Center. We are grateful that the Living Cultures Grant will enable us to publish what the Elders teach.

More Stories

Exploring the relationship between Native American people and their landscape, and all the animals and other beings living there, has been a longtime interest.

Excerpt from Saving the Bighorn Sheep Songs. 
The 71-year-old voice sings: He kwe ma to kai yu pe.
The 17-year-old voice repeats: He kwe ma to kai yu pe.
Ernest H. Siva is teaching his grand-nephew Isaac Horsman Rodriguez the Serrano Bighorn Sheep Songs (Paa'chucham). The Paa'chucham are a series of songs telling an ancient Serrano story about the creation of the Bighorns. Mr. Siva is perhaps the only person who has been singing the songs and sharing them in recent years. Now, he is teaching this fragment of the past to Isaac, for the future. (Written in 2008 for Dorothy Ramon Learning Center's Heritage Keepers newsletter, which I edit, design, and publish.)

Online sampling: How voices tell a story
President Obama Honors Morongo Tribal Member

“That day I started saving my money. Of every cent I earned and obtained over the next years, half of it went into my savings account. One must recognize that at that time there weren’t a lot of employment opportunities for little Indian girls living on a reservation. But when I pulled all my resources together some four years later, I had at total of $1,000 and change. Mrs. Adams’s visit was clearly a turning point. I knew I was 'smart' … But I had never thought about going college before her visit — and  I freely confess I had no idea what college was. But this nice, very important (in my view) lady took the trouble to talk with my mother about college and thought that it was important that I go.” (News profile and photo of Native American education leader Marigold Linton. Article employs narrative and voice through oral history techniques, published 2011, UC Riverside newsroom.)

July 4th bike parader in Long Beach area (Pat Murkland Photo)
One-Woman Band
A sampling of the spot news, news photos, community news, police and public safety news, enterprise articles and features written and photographed in a stint as a sub editor on a news site, over the July 4th holiday in 2012:
Star-Spangled Bikes Celebrate Fourth With Great American Kids Parade
The Red, White, and Blue of the Kids' Bike Parade
Their July 4 Was Busiest Day of the Year
Arrests Made in Long Beach Stabbing
Man Faces Attempted Murder Charge in Code-Enforcement Shooting
Police Will Try to Arrest Some of You This Weekend
Bay To Sizzle With July 3 Fireworks
A Few People Got Nabbed With Illegal Fireworks
(Published July 2012, belmontshorepatch)

Explaining the complex clearly
Murrieta Council to Consider Police Retirement Changes (On deadline, published Nov. 26, 2012, murrietapatch)
Responsible Journalism Called Crucial to Democratic Society 
(Written in 2001 on a really tight deadline for The Press-Enterprise newspaper, this foretold some challenges of online journalism in 2013)

Sharing stories from history
San Gorgonio Inn: An Icon of the Past
San Gorgonio Inn, demolished today (April 18, 2011), has been a landmark of Banning for more than 100 years. 
The Inn also was an icon of San Gorgonio Pass, which for countless years has offered travelers rest and respite between coast and desert.
Along the way the Inn has mirrored the history of the region — and the nation.
(Published in, April 2011)
Mrs. Gilman's cookies Baking through time
(Published in The Record-Gazette, December 2010)


I blog at and for:
Dorothy Ramon Learning Center: Ahunika'
Sampling:  Connecting history
I also write about Dorothy Ramon Learning Center on Facebook.

Gryffindor Irish Wolfhounds

New Book for Ushkana Press

I edited, designed, and formatted the latest book from Ushkana Press, the publishing arm of Dorothy Ramon Learning Center. I serve as contract Editor for this nonprofit that saves and shares Southern California Native American cultures, and I took the 240-page book through every step from manuscript to published work. 

Illustration by David Fairrington, Design by Pat Murkland
Ushkana Press is pleased to announce its newest book, This War is For A Whole Life: The Culture of Resistance Among Southern California Indians, 1850-1966. This landmark work by Richard A. Hanks, PhD, tells the mostly untold stories of Southern California's own Native American heroes and follows the paths of leadership as American Indian people waged battle in tumultuous times to secure their Southern California homelands, natural resources, and respect. Historical photos, and the voices of Southern California Native American Elders (including several who have since passed away), help tell this history that's been missing from the history books.

Mona Lisa

© Pat Murkland
When I first began experimenting with fabric, I made this funky fabric doll. The fabric was hand-dyed and painted. Floss stitched her body together. Her hands and head are fabric-covered buttons mounted on bottle caps. Her heart and feet are milagros. The letter beads on lower right spell out, "seek," which is what I was feeling as I made this Mona Lisa. She can be worn as a necklace.