Lillian Bernice Snooks was at the forefront of the late-twentieth century campaign to preserve Atsugewi culture and traditions. She was part of an extended family of women who pursued this work at Lassen Volcanic National Park and other sites in a concerted effort to reject the US assimilation campaigns that they had endured as children.
Snooks was born on May 20, 1927, to Atsugewi parents, Karrahtahtmenoo (or Dessie) and McGarry Snooks. After McGarry’s death, Snooks’s mother ran a farm to support her six children and mother. At the age of twelve, Snooks and several siblings began attending the Sherman Institute, a boarding high school for Native American students, located in Riverside, California and far from their Northern California origins.1
Like thousands of Native American children who attended boarding schools created by the US federal government to promote assimilation, Snooks was separated from her elders and prohibited from speaking her Native language. Snooks lost the ability to speak Atsugewi fluently and experienced the alienation and loneliness that was common among boarding school students.2
As an adult, Snooks responded to this experience by actively claiming Indigenous culture, following in the footsteps of female elders. Her aunt, Boonookooeemenorra (or Selena) LaMarr began working as a naturalist and Atsugewi cultural interpreter at Lassen Volcanic in 1952, leading demonstrations in basket weaving and acorn pounding. Snooks’s mother joined LaMarr in her cultural preservation work in the mid-1950s, followed by Snooks and her sister Laverna Jenkins in the 1970s.3 Snooks and Jenkins served as consultants on a project surveying Atusgewi language, cultural stories, and traditions, including basket weaving. Snooks tied her culture’s spirituality to the way she designed her baskets. “I never try to make a basket unless I know the design,” Snooks explained. “The design comes to me in a dream. Then I make the basket.”4
Snooks and her family also emphasized their cultural ties to the park environment. As Snooks explained to a reporter, Lassen Volcanic’s features were “the spiritual lakes and mountains of the Atsugewi.” Snooks became an Elder of the Atsugewi band of the Pit River Nation and continued to spread Atsugewi culture and environmental consciousness throughout her community.5
Snooks died in 2009, about ten years after her husband, Leo Cantrell, a WWII veteran and fellow Native American from Shasta. She left behind a son, a granddaughter, and numerous great-grandchildren. She also left a legacy of cultural preservation and pride that has allowed the Atsugewi culture to continue and remain connected to its homeland into the twenty-first century.6
1 - “United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9RHS-H3W?cc=1810731&wc=QZF3-4DS%3A648807101%2C651909001%2C649711503%2C1589282311 : 9 December 2015), California > Shasta > Township 7 > ED 21 > image 10 of 10; citing NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002).; “United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G9MT-67TT?cc=2000219&wc=QZX5-SH2%3A790105301%2C803271801%2C803318301%2C803321301 : accessed 23 July 2020), California > Riverside > Riverside Judicial Township, Riverside, Ward 6 > 33-55 Riverside Judicial Township, Riverside City Ward 6, Sherman Institute and Hospital > image 12 of 20; citing Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 - 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012.2 - Clifford E. Trafzer, Matt Sakiestewa Gilbert, and Lorena Sisquoc, Indian School on Magnolia Avenue: Voices and Images from Sherman Institute (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2012); Collector reads a word in Atsugewi and consultants repeat, consultants remember some words, misc. conversation in English, LA 153.038, in "The Leonard Talmy collection of Atsugewi sound recordings", Survey of California and Other Indian Languages, University of California, Berkeley, http://cla.berkeley.edu/item/19165.
3 - “Selena LaMarr (U.S. National Park Service)” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 20 Mar. 2019, www.nps.gov/people/selena-lamarr.htm; “Lillian Snooks-Cantrell, Obituaries,” Redding Record Searchlight (Redding, CA), February 25, 2009.
4 - Lois Crozier-Hogle, Darryl Babe Wilson, and Ferne Jensen, Surviving in Two Worlds: Contemporary Native American Voices (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010), xxvii.
5 - Charles Hillinger, “Indian Woman is Last Word on Language of the Atsugewi,” Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA), August 23, 1988; “Lillian Snooks-Cantrell, Obituaries,” Redding Record Searchlight (Redding, CA), February 25, 2009.
6 - “Lillian Snooks-Cantrell, Obituaries,” Redding Record Searchlight (Redding, CA), February 25, 2009; “Leo J. Buck Cantrell, Obituaries,” Redding Record Searchlight (Redding, CA), January 23, 1998; Ancestry.com, 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Year: 1930; Census Place: Township 7, Shasta, California; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 0020; FHL microfilm: 2339955 Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2002.
Bahr, Diana Meyers. The Students of Sherman Indian School: Education and Native Identity Since 1892. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.
- Survey of California and Other Indian Languages—Atsugewi: https://cla.berkeley.edu/list.php?langid=260#
Acknowledgements:This project was made possible in part by a grant from the National Park Foundation.
This project was conducted in Partnership with the University of California Davis History Department through the Californian Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit, CA# P20AC00946