Every year around Thanksgiving, Gene Albitre is busy hunting and making use of all his materials.
"There's a big importance in gathering the hides and the oils, the bones different things so that we can make the regalia,” said Albitre, a Kumeyaay Indian from east Bakersfield. “We'll use certain feathers, use certain bones, we'll use certain things, but this is the only time of year we can gather them."
Albitre has been preserving rawhides ever since he was 13 years old after learning all the tricks of the trade from a 70-year-old Chumash Indian, who lived down the street.
“It’s about just doing things for yourself, making your own stuff, making that time that connection with family with culture," Albitre said.
Albitre recently hunted a bear in the Greenhorn Mountains. He says a bear is for healing, so the skin will be used in ceremonies while its oil can be used for lotion. It takes him about 10 hours to stretch out a hide and skin it for 400 feet of string. He turns buck skin into purses and elk skin into rattles. Even the jewelry Albitre makes holds a special meaning.
"One of my beaded necklaces shows people holding hands,” Albitre said. “They’re different races of man, so that we all learn to work together."
Albitre is the past president of the Native American Heritage Preservation Council and currently serves as the Native-American spiritual leader for North Kern State Prison in Delano. When he's not busy planning the annual Standing Bear Pow-wow, he talks to schools about Native American history.
Kern County is home to close to 13,000 Native Americans.
“We have some Yokuts, Kawaiisu, Tubatulabul, Cherokees, Choctaws, Seminoles, Apaches, Comanches, definitely a lot of tribes that have come together here in this Bakersfield area,” Albitre said. “A lot of turmoil did happen in history, but there's a lot of good people out there who just really want to help someone else.”
Albitre is a firm believer in looking at the simple things in life during a hectic holiday season.
"Everything we're given is a gift and that's what Thanksgivings about,” Albitre said. We're standing here, we're breathing, we're eating good food, sometimes, we overlook the basic stuff."