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Black Oak Casino fosters economic growth from Me-Wuk roots

Black Oak Casino is one of the newer casinos in the area with approximately 14 years of service to the community and the Me-Wuk tribe. The profits from the casino have not only put the tribe on a sound financial footing, but it also has improved the education, housing and the infrastructure on the Rancheria and also developed other businesses like medical and dental clinics.

The Tuolumne band of Me-Wuk Indians was established in 1910, and is one of seven federally recognized Miwok tribes.

One of the main ceremonial dances that was and still is celebrated today is in respect to the black oak acorns, which inspired the casino’s name. The black oak acorn was one of the staple foods for the Me-Wuk’s nourishment. This food was eaten daily and it was known that one could live off the acorn if nothing else was available. For that reason, the tribe collected acorns every year in abundance and stored the acorns in silos that were called ‘chuckas.’

Today’s people still collect acorns every fall and prepare and cook the acorns, making a soup called nupa. The soup is still cooked in the traditional manner using hot basalt rocks, but the baskets that were once used to cook in have been traded for stainless steel pots.

Nupa is considered a delicacy today as new foods have taken the place of this once important traditional food. The Me-Wuk still celebrates this important food by hosting the Acorn Festival on the second weekend in September.

When the Gold Rush descended upon the Central Sierra, homeland of the Me-Wuk, havoc broke loose. Prior to the gold rush over 14,000 estimated native people lived in the Central Sierra Me-Wuk territory; after the Gold Rush this number was reduced to a mere 700.

Many of the Me-Wuk were killed either because of greed or by disease that the non-native settlers brought with them. This was also the time that many Me-Wuk fled the area in hopes of finding a safe place to live.

The Tuolumne Rancheria was established in 1910. Initially the Rancheria was set up as a reservation for homeless natives. The Tuolumne Rancheria became the home for many of the Me-Wuk from different neighboring villages. Many of the children from this area were sent away to government boarding schools, such as Sherman Government School in Southern California or to Stewart Government School in Stewart, Nevada.

The main purpose of sending children to government schools was to assimilate them into a non-native society. As a result of these schools, much of the tradition and language was taken away.

Today within the California homelands, there are programs to help revive the native language and the traditions that are a very important part of the Me-Wuk and other tribes throughout the state.

The small casino opened in 2001 and the property has since grown including the addition of a hotel and conference center that opened in 2013.

The hotel has 148 rooms and a state-of-the-art conference facility that will accommodate up to 300 people. The hotel is the largest in the county and is the first to be built in 27 years in the county.

Today, Black Oak employs a total of 1,100 team members that come from primarily from the Sonora, Jamestown, Columbia and Tuolumne areas, and a few that are further out. They are the second largest employer in Tuolumne County including employees at the casino, hotel, clinics and tribal administration.

“The casino has made a very significant economic impact on Tuolumne County,” stated General Manager Ron Patel. “The hotel and conference facility is helping tremendously to develop the business further.”

Black Oak offers guests a variety of gaming, entertainment, restaurants and a very unique family fun center on the bottom floor.

There are 1,300 slot machines, 26 table games, two-table electronic poker and an entertainment lounge that will seat over 250 people.

People can enjoy comedy or live music at the Willow Creek Lounge and Bar or enjoy fine dining at the Seven Sisters restaurant where they cook up gourmet specialties.

The family floor has a 24 lane Brunswick bowling center, 60 arcade games, a sports bar and grill, fast food, burgers, fries and pizza type restaurants.

The casino is 21 and older; however the all ages welcome family floor is separate from the casino.

There are also plenty of sites to see in the surrounding area and the new hotel offers YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System) bus transportation to Yosemite National Park. The bus will pick up guests at the hotel early in the morning and then return back to the hotel in the evening.

Dodge Ridge Ski Area is also about 45 minutes up the road from the hotel in case you want to hit the slopes.

And don’t forget about the historic surrounding gold country and old town charm that Sonora, Jamestown and Columbia have that are all minutes away from the hotel.

“We are not just a casino, we have so many facilities here from fine dining to bowling, family restaurants, a hotel and conference center as well as all the tourist attractions all around us,” said Patel. “This is a very central place to come and locate yourself and enjoy everything that is inside and enjoy everything that is outside.”