Essie Pinola Parrish was a prominent leader, healer, and basket weaver who worked to preserve the heritage of her people, the Kashaya Pomo of Sonoma County. Essie was born November 29, 1902, on Haupt Ranch in Sonoma County and raised by her grandmother. At age six she was recognized as a Dreamer, the last of four prophets and healers that would come to help the Kashaya Pomo. As a Dreamer, Essie received instructions in her dreams on how to cure the sick and perform ceremonies, as well as prophecies of the future.
On the Kashaya Pomo Reservation, Parrish brought the tribe’s Dream Dance religion back to life and was a well-known healer who specialized in ‘sucking’ disease from the bodies of the sick. Parrish was also a distinguished basket weaver whose traditional Pomo baskets are in museum collections across the United States.
Parrish worked throughout her life to help preserve Pomo culture. She appeared in more than twenty anthropological films, and one, Chishkale, was named best documentary at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival. She collaborated with linguist Robert Oswalt to create a Kashaya Pomo language dictionary, and contributed to his Kashaya Texts, a collection of Pomo legends and stories. Parrish also taught in the reservation’s school to pass the Kashaya’s cultural heritage on to the next generation.
In her seventies, Parrish helped persuade the government to give the Indians of Sonoma County the title to an old building on 125 acres of land. This land was turned into a job training and education center for California Indians. Parrish passed away in 1979 at the age of 76.