Here Daniel McCarthy, a member of the Malki Museum board, sits with the late Dr. Katherine Siva Saubel, Cahuilla elder, scholar, and co-founder of the Malki Museum. Photo by Holly Owens

Daniel McCarthy, preeminent archaeologist and cultural anthropologist, will be honored at the Idyllwild Nature Center. The EarthWitness Foundation is recognizing McCarthy’s career for his stewardship of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains and his valuable work with the various local tribes and their leaders.

“He is known as an expert in Native American Plant uses, prehistoric aboriginal trails, and rock painting sites,” said Christina Nordella, president of the EarthWitness Foundation.

“What I enjoyed, from early in my career, was working with the traditional tribal leaders and elders,” McCarthy said. “It was the possibility to exchange ideas and observe.”

While McCarthy has been with the San Bernardino National Forest almost two decades as Archaeologist and Tribal Relations Program Manager, he has been studying and working with local indigenous populations for much longer. He worked at Joshua Tree National Park as well as the Anza-Borrego State Park.

The roots of McCarthy’s interest in these subjects began nearly 45 years ago when he worked on a project with world-renowned British archeologist and naturalist, Louis Leakey. McCarthy did not have to travel to Africa to collaborate with the famous archaeologist. Near the end of his career, Leakey participated in field exercises called the Calico Early Man Site, which is located near Barstow in the Mojave Desert.

McCarthy said his interest in the work came from his love of the outdoors, and digging and sifting offered that opportunity. He worked at various other sites besides serving in Vietnam.

Not only his accomplishments with local tribes, but also his personality have impressed his colleagues and friends throughout southern California. Holly Owens knows McCarthy from their mutual work at the Malki Museum on the Morongo Reservation in Banning.

“I don’t remember the first time I met Daniel McCarthy, but it was when I had first moved up here full-time and we discussed and visited pictographs,” she said. “I was struck then, as I am still today, by his incredible wealth of knowledge, but his humility and integrity. He has worked tirelessly to earn the trust of many tribal elders and community members and his research and writings have helped revitalize traditions such as harvesting agave and other native plant uses and his knowledge of rock art is extensive.”

But McCarthy’s archaeology did not focus exclusively on the tedious excavation of sites. He wanted to learn from the living and look back. So he eventually became acquainted with local tribal elders and learned about plants — both food and medicinal uses.

Last week, McCarthy, also a member of the Malki Museum board, led the 17th annual agave harvest and roast. He taught people how to gather the plant and then roast it in a pit.

His first agave harvest was in 1974 and he become much more efficient and a much better cook. “It’s not as easy as you might think,” he warned. “The traditional recipe is very general, such as cook over fire.” Details such as temperature and length, which are common in modern cookbooks, are left to the practitioner. “You have to adjust,” he said. “I had a lot of trial and error.”

McCarthy is also the vice president of Nex’wetem, the Southern California Indian Basketweavers.

The EarthWitness Foundation’s event will be from 3 to 5 p.m., Saturday, April 28, at the Idyllwild Nature Center. Besides honoring McCarthy, the event will open with a blessing from Ernest Siva and Gerald Clarke Jr. will sing.

Native food tasting will be available and Rose Ann Hamilton will demonstrate Cahuilla basket making. Proceeds From this event will benefit Nex’wetem.