Janessa Starkey and James Rey IV are high-school sweethearts, and had been together nearly 15 years when James proposed on a cliff in Tahoe National Forest. The couple, both members of the Native American Miwok Tribe, knew they wanted to get married somewhere near their Foresthill, California, home. “It’s the place we plan on raising our family, and where we will settle down permanently,” Janessa says. So, it only made sense to kick off the journey right there.
Beyond that, though, they weren’t sure where to begin. “When I started the planning process, I had no clue what I was doing,” Janessa admits. So they tapped local wedding planner Stephanie Teague to help them navigate the process, from planning logistics to turning the bride’s vague theme and wild color palette—red and purple!—into something cohesive and beautiful.
There was also an important cultural element. “When I began working with the bride, she made it clear that she wanted to represent her Native American culture in subtle and respectful ways,” Stephanie says. The majority of their 30 guests in attendance would also be from the tribe, so paying truthful homage was paramount.
In the end, it came together perfectly. Keep scrolling to see all the unique details from their April 22, 2023, wedding, planned by Teague Events and photographed by Liz Zimbelman.
“The bride’s favorite color is purple and the groom’s favorite color is red, so we tried to incorporate both colors into the design,” planner Stephanie Teague explains. “Because the wedding venue was in the woods, we also incorporated some earthy tones and elements such as brown stoneware, leather, and cedar.”
An all-black tuxedo provided a canvas against which James’ jewelry could pop. “His necklace was gifted to him by his mentor from high school and was made from abalone and pine nut shells, which their people commonly use in traditional dance outfits,” Stephanie says. He wore his long hair in a simple braid accented with a feather.
Janessa’s Sottero & Midgley gown was made from lace, Mikado, and tulle. “I wasn’t sure about the dress when I first tried it on—but when I added my jewelry, it seemed meant to be,” she says. She made all of her own jewelry, including a necklace and belt made from abalone, dentalium shell, and pine nuts.
“Traditionally, the couple’s tribe would conduct weddings in a cedar hut,” Stephanie explains. “The venue we chose had two large cedar trees at the entrance to the ceremony area, and I immediately realized how meaningful and special it would be for the couple to be married between them.” They added color with custom florals climbing up each trunk.
“The bride did not like the idea of two sides to the ceremony space with an aisle in the middle, so we designed the ceremony chairs in a curved layout without an aisle; the processional would walk up the path to the cedar trees, rather than down a traditional aisle,” says Stephanie. Janessa did, however, still enter the space alongside her father to the tune of “Still This Love Goes On” by Buffy Saint-Marie.
The Miwok tribe has a tradition of cleansing with mugwort water, a rite similar to the way others cleanse by burning sage. “At the start of the day, my team steeped mugwort from the couple’s garden in hot water and allowed it to sit all day while the wedding preparations were happening,” Stephanie says. “Just before the ceremony, we transferred this water into a dispenser and as the guests arrived, we asked them to cleanse their hands.” During the ceremony, the couple cleansed themselves and their children with mugwort water from their own bowl.
The groom’s grandmother officiated the sweet ceremony. “One funny and cute thing that happened was when our son refused to wait to give us our wedding rings, and then put them on our pinky fingers during the ceremony,” Janessa remembers.
I felt complete for the first time in my life.
Their son acted as ring bearer, and their daughter as flower girl; she wore a soft pink dress and tribal jewelry. “The moment I saw my daughter dressed for our wedding was so special,” Janessa recalls. “She looked so beautiful, and sharing this big day with her meant so much to me.”
A statement-making bar was adorned with a custom leather menu—though guests weren’t required to get up every time they wanted a drink. “All of the alcohol during dinner was served tableside—a luxury of having a very small guest count!” Stephanie says.
“In sticking with the meaningfulness of the cedar, we were able to find a beautiful cedar slice and had our sign maker engrave this as the seating chart,” Stephanie says. The cedar was then mounted on a leather board.
Place cards doubled as keepsakes. “Each place setting had a custom menu that also served as a place card. Guests’ names were engraved into a leather tag attached to the menu with brads that allowed the tag to be removed,” Stephanie describes. “After dinner, my team collected all of the tags and attached them to key rings so that the guests could take home this leather keychain as a favor.”
The reception vibe was romantic. Florals, chairs and even glass goblets popped with color, so the design team kept linens and tableware more subtle. “I loved the texture of the linen and the matte finish of the stoneware,” Stephanie says. “The bone flatware was a beautiful accent that fit the couple’s style and the feel of the venue.”
Lavender florals were rendered in buttercream on the couple’s petite cutting cake to reflect the actual florals in the décor. A spread of mini desserts complemented the cake: There were fruit tarts, mocha-flavored parfaits and triple-chocolate mini-cakes, as well.
The newlyweds shared a first dance to “You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker and soaked up all the wedding day bliss. “A moment I will cherish for the rest of my life is when my husband and I sat on the steps in front of the venue,” Janessa reminisces. “I looked at him and smiled, realizing how much he truly loved me and that this man would do anything for me. I felt complete for the first time in my life.”