Native American Contemplative Garden

The Native American Contemplative Garden features naturally shaped basalt columns representing the Patwin people

The Native American Contemplative Garden features naturally shaped basalt columns representing the Patwin people.

Dedicated November 2009, the Native American Contemplative Garden sits on the bank of the historic Putah Creek channel and within the UC Davis Arboretum, a living museum with 100 acres of gardens and plant collections known internationally as scientific and horticultural resources.

The garden features naturally shaped basalt columns representing the Patwin people and their strength and resilience; trees and other plants used by the Patwin people; a curving path representing the flow of the creek and the flow of time; and a spiral seating area designed after the coiled start of a Patwin basket.

The columns include age-old statements of Patwin philosophy, which have survived the mostly unacknowledged history of genocide in California. One of them beckons visitors to "Try to imagine this place with no buildings, no sidewalks, no roads." At the heart of the garden is a column engraved with the names of 51 local Patwin men, women and children who were removed by Spanish soldiers and missionaries from the village of Putoy and taken to missions from 1817 to 1836.

About the Patwin

The Patwin people lived not only in villages along Putah Creek, but in hundreds of villages lining the creeks from Glenn County to San Francisco Bay, according to Tammara Ekness Norton of Far Western Anthropological Research Group. As a people, they were decimated by disease and forced relocation to missions, she wrote in the project plan. Today, only three federally recognized Patwin (Wintun) Indian rancherias remain.

The garden includes about 34 varieties of plants—many identified by their Patwin names—that were used by the inhabitants for food, medicine, basketry and much more.

'A common purpose'

In the garden's vista, across the creek and through large trees—including a 400-year-old oak—is the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. During the building's construction 10 years ago, an excavation crew uncovered 13 Patwin burials. All remains were subsequently reburied in an undisclosed location.

A committee including representatives from UC Davis, its staff and students, and the Patwin community worked together to develop the plan to honor the Patwin heritage of UC Davis, the Department of Native American studies, and all Native Americans at UC Davis and in the region. The project also serves to mark the Patwin's spiritual connection to the land and their ancestors.

"Where there was once anger and distrust, there is now respect, trust, a common purpose," said committee member Sheri Tatsch, who graduated from UC Davis with a doctoral degree in Native American studies and is a native language consultant.

Patwin Elder Wright has said the new reflective area offers encouragement to American Indian students, telling them that they belong here, that they belong in higher education—and they can say, "I'm a part of this."

UC Davis enrolled its first students in 1908. The Native American studies department is one of only three in the nation to offer a Ph.D. in Native American studies.

The arboretum, including the contemplative garden, is free and open to the public seven days a week.

View a slideshow about the garden.