A leader remembered

The late Farrell Cunningham helped return Humbug Valley to the Mountain Maidu

Farrell Cunningham

Farrell Cunningham

PHOTO by jane braxton little

When the Mountain Maidu formed the Maidu Summit Consortium in 2002, Farrell Cunningham was an obvious choice for chairman. He had focused his adult life on learning his native culture, especially the relationships among plants and animals and the sacred connections throughout the natural world. At 26, he was the tribe’s most fluent speaker of Mountain Maidu.

Cunningham threw himself into writing a landmanagement plan to present to the Stewardship Council as part of the consortium’s application for title to Humbug Valley. The document follows the Maidu people from the time of Worldmaker’s creations through the first “white people” in Humbug Valley to an overview of Maidu traditional ecology. It includes plans for a Maidu culture interpretive center.

To bolster the Maidu case, Cunningham met with Stewardship Council and agency officials—in Sacramento or Oakland when he had to, but as often as possible on the ground in Humbug Valley. His commitment to the effort to return Humbug Valley to Maidu people was absolute, said Ric Notini, the Stewardship Council’s director of land conservation.

Cunningham died of natural causes in August at his home in Susanville. He was 37.

His responsibility as Maidu Summit chairman included a series of deliberate steps that placed other people, both within and outside the organization, to carry out his vision, said Ken Holbrook, the consortium’s executive director: “Farrell did everything he could to put us in a position to succeed. We know that nothing the Maidu Summit Consortium is today could have been without him. What we are doing is a result of his lifelong passion and pursuit of authentic ideas.”