Outdoors enthusiasts know Mt. Shasta as a 14,179-foot-tall playground. Yet an array of spiritual seekers also consider the majestic peak to be one of the world’s sacred mountains. Balancing the needs of all the people who come to visit is the job of Julie Cassidy, an archaeologist and tribal liaison who has served since 1982 as heritage program manager for the Shasta-McCloud Management Unit of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
One of her primary responsibilities is to work with Native Americans (primarily Wintu communities) who conduct tribal ceremonies on the mountain. “The ceremonies are based historically on their tribal stories, some of which are their creation stories,” Cassidy said. “The mountain figures into some of their origin stories. In song and dance, the mountain is a user landmark for territorial boundaries and the overall needing to come home to a place. I’ve heard it’s used to guide them home. It’s also for doctoring and prayers – certain Native American doctors come and still do doctoring.”
Cassidy began establishing relationships with the communities she serves as soon as she came to the forest. Sometimes tribal ceremonies can conflict with the general public’s use of the mountain, and maintaining a respectful, healthy balance between these uses is Cassidy’s charge. “There are not many places (that these needs) overlap, but on Mt. Shasta they do,” she said. “We do a big public education effort to the larger recreating public to understand these rituals are going on. It’s usually face-to-face contact during ceremonies or restoration projects.”
For example, the Forest Service has partnered with the Mt. Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center to help protect and restore the mountain’s natural environment and cultural values.
“Being an agency archaeologist is always a mix – you’re not just studying the people of the past, but people of the present,” said Cassidy, who holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s from Chico State University. “I try to be the voice that might not have been heard, and to link the agency to that voice.”
Cassidy relishes her life in rural Mt. Shasta. She loves backcountry skiing, and “no matter how many cars are at Bunny Flat, you never see anyone out there,” she said. “It’s so crisp and clean. It’s like a renewal.” By summer, she enjoys whitewater kayaking on the Sacramento and Klamath rivers and swimming in the high alpine lakes.
“I’m inspired every day by the sunsets, the sunrises, the lenticular clouds, the alpine glow. The moon rising and setting, the sparkling freshness of the snow – it’s an incredible place to live,” Cassidy said. “It’s a little bit of a cultural mecca. It’s cosmopolitan. There’s lots to do – there are good restaurants, lots of music, opportunities for drama and art. It’s a small, community-oriented place. I’m lucky to live here.”