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South Bay Indigenous Solidarity is a multi-ethnic group that supports Indigenous-led, grassroots efforts to promote human rights, restore Indigenous land stewardship and preserve threatened cultural, burial, and sacred sites. Our current focus is supporting the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band’s effort to protect Juristac, an area of immense cultural, historical, environmental, and spiritual importance.

 

Although our organization is centred in San Jose, California, we seek to support Indigenous communities throughout the world in their grassroots efforts to steward their Ancestral Sites and Ancestral Lands.  Many areas of the world (and all of the present-day United States) have been subjected to colonial settlement which has displaced and often decimated Indigenous populations of these regions.  

Indigenous Peoples

The term 'Indigenous' is a broad one, with many meanings to many people.  Many countries have majority populations who are considered indigenous to the regions they inhabit.  These populations have Ancestors who have lived in their respective regions for hundreds or thousands of years. However, even in countries that have majority populations that are Indigenous to some portion of the country in question, there are often minority Indigenous Peoples who inhabit the modern-day boundaries of these same countries.

 

From a legal perspective, the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations has stated: "Indigenous communities, peoples, and nations are those that, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop, and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems." (IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, April 2011)

Within the present-day boundaries of the United States (as well as much of the rest of North and South America), Peoples who identify themselves as Indigenous represent a minority of the population.  Widespread genocide, forced land appropriation, and racial discrimination have led to a situation today where Indigenous communities have been forcibly separated from their Ancestral Lands.  Most of these Ancestral Lands have been either privatized or put under government jurisdiction.  Across all of these Ancestral Lands exist hundreds of thousands of known Indigenous burial, cultural, and sacred sites--as well as many that have not officially been recorded.

 

In the United States, the government does keep records of known 'archaeological sites'.  And a field of study known as 'cultural resource management' does exist, which is supposed to provide a way for these various burial, cultural, and sacred sites to be given some consideration when earth-disturbing activities are taking place.  However, the laws that offer some degree of consideration for these Indigenous sites are imperfect.  Many categories of land fall outside the purview of these laws, many loopholes exist in these laws, and many Indigenous 'cultural sites' are impacted every day in every State within the United States.

The Ancestors of the Indigenous Peoples commonly referred to as 'Ohlone' or 'Ohlone-Costanoan' faced one of the most complete genocides in human history.  There is no Federally-recognized Ohlone Tribe.  There are no treaties.  There are no reservations.  All of the land in what is now one of the wealthiest areas of the world was forcefully appropriated.  During much of the late 1800's, Indigenous populations in the region faced genocide and slavery--both of which were sanctioned by the United States government.  In such an environment, much of the Indigenous Amerindian population of the region fled their Ancestral Lands.  To this day, many people whose Ancestors inhabited the San Francisco-Monterey Bay region for thousands of years can no longer afford to live in this region.

Land Stewardship

The concept of stewarding the ecological resources of Ancestral Lands and of stewarding Ancestral Sites is important to most--if not all--Indigenous communities.  In many cases, stewardship of Ancestral Lands and Ancestral Sites is a fundamental component of Indigenous culture, spirituality, or religion.  

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In terms of climate change and ecological degradation, it is unfair that the Ancestral Lands of Indigenous Peoples continue to be impacted in ways that contribute to these issues, while often not providing any economic contribution to existing Indigenous communities.  In the area now known as the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area, Indigenous Amerindian communities are often sidelined from the decision-making processes that impact their Ancestral Lands.  

Supporting Tribal Efforts to Steward Their Ancestral Lands

Many Tribal entities have formed Tribal Land Trusts to have a method by which they can steward Ancestral Lands that have been appropriated and are no longer owned by a Tribe or its members.  For example, in the southern San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area, the Amah Mutsun Land Trust has entered agreements with various parks and open space authorities to steward portions of the lands within the region.  This stewardship includes the reintroduction of indigenous plants that have often been 'pushed out' by invasive species.  

 

It also includes the possible reintroduction of 'cultural burns' (a traditional form of controlled burn). Cultural burns were used for centuries by Indigenous Peoples in this geographic region as a part of traditional land stewardship.  The cultural burns were utilized into the 1800's CE to both encourage the growth of certain species of plants, while also lightening the loads of fuel near the ground and thus preventing truly catastrophic wildfires.  Many of the plants indigenous to this region rely on periodic fires to help them propagate.  One reason that catastrophic fires have occurred in this region in the last two centuries has to do with the fact that the concept of 'cultural burns' had been outlawed.

 

As a resident of the region, you can advocate for various government and private landholding entities to consider forming relationships with Tribes and Indigenous organizations in the region.  In addition, if you live within the region of focus for the Segorea Te Land Trust, you can consider paying the Shuumi or 'Land Tax' which that Land Trust has proposed for those who reside in its region.  You can also consider supporting well-publicized efforts to protect Ancestral Lands, such as the Wetʼsuwetʼen efforts to oppose the Coastal GasLink Pipeline in British Columbia and the Indigenous-led efforts to oppose the operation of the Line 3 tar sands pipeline in the US Midwest--or the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band's efforts to Protect Juristac in Santa Clara County, California.  

 

There are many things you can do as an individual to help protect the ecology in the region where you live.  But keep in mind, you probably live on unceded Indigenous Ancestral Lands.  And for many Indigenous Peoples, the duty of stewarding these lands is an integral part of their spiritual tradition.  It is your choice as an individual if you choose to hear what your local Indigenous community has to say regarding its Ancestral Lands.  And it is your voice as an individual which helps reflect public opinion on this issue.

Protecting the Thousands of Indigenous Burial, Cultural, and Sacred Sites in Our Midst

Everyone living in this region impacts the Ancestral Lands of Indigenous Peoples, and often our individual or collective actions impact Ancestral Sites.  We can take precautions to ensure that we help steward the ecology of the land and protect Indigenous Ancestral sites.  In terms of protecting Indigenous Ancestral Sites it is important to ensure that whenever the soils of the region are disturbed in any way, that precautions are taken to ensure that human burials, cultural sites, and sacred sites are given due consideration.  Not all of these sites are recorded in government records, and most are 'rediscovered' by happenstance--by normal folks.  

Here are some important things to consider:

  1. Whenever you or anyone is going to dig into the soil, check to see if any sort of government permit is required for your actions.  It is only when permits are filed for that the normal 'cultural resource management' process is undertaken by a government agency.  If a permit is required for an action, and the area where the action will take place is listed as 'archaeologically sensitive' or as part of a county or municipality 'cultural resource inventory', the agency responsible for granting the permit will likely require a cultural resource study (basically part of an environmental impact study) to take place prior to any work proceeding.  The relevant 'Information System' which holds records of archaeological resources within the region will be queried, a test excavation of the area may be required, and the presence of an archaeological and/or Tribal monitor may be required during the earthmoving processes.  The way the current system works, most-likely-descendant groups are often notified when such a study is undertaken.                                                                                                                                    

  2. If you ever come across 'cultural resources' or unidentified bones (especially when digging into he ground), you are legally required to stop work and report the 'finds' to relevant government agencies.  If you find unidentified bones or bone fragments, work must stop and you must contact your local coroner to identify the skeletal materials.  In the San Francisco-Monterey Bay region, Indigenous Peoples sometimes practiced forms of partial cremation.  Partial cremation leaves many bones intact, which would often be buried together in a formal grave.  A process known as 'bioturbulation' describes how ground rodents often disturb graves and cultural sites within the region.  So, do not expect that all human remains will be 'in situ' as a complete human skeleton.  In addition, be aware that archaeology in our region includes historic resources, which may only be a few decades old.  If you come across cultural resources in the ground of any date, please realize that you are supposed to stop any further earthmoving before an archaeologist can examine the area.  Historic and pre-contact (pre-colonization) archaeological sites are often mixed together in our region.                                                           

  3. When a larger-scale construction project is planned or underway, use due diligence as a concerned individual to enquire if any environmental impact study or cultural resource study will be or was considered for the project.  Many larger-scale and 'maintenance' projects do not necessarily require permits or may bypass the normal procedural structure regarding cultural resource management laws.  It is incredibly important to contact the relevant authorities when notification of an upcoming environmental impact report is released to ensure that contact with relevant most-likely-descendant groups is made.  This is because such Indigenous organizations have the ability to provide input to such reports if they choose to do so.  If you believe that earthmoving or other construction activities are taking place in an area that may be 'archaeologically sensitive', please make your concerns known to the relevant authorities for that area, and make contact with local Tribal communities regarding that area.  Indigenous communities are often overlooked regarding developments taking place on Ancestral Lands.          

  4. Never collect arrowheads or other cultural resources--including historic resources.  This activity is sometimes referred to as 'pot hunting'--and it destroys the context of archaeological sites.  If you discover an arrowhead or other 'lithic resource' that has potentially been modified by humans, take a picture of it 'in-situ' (as it appears where you spotted it) and contact a relevant authority (the relevant planning department if on private land, a park-service if found within a park, etc.).  Noting the location of the resource is incredibly important.
     

  5. Be aware that the locations of specific 'archaeological sites' are usually kept secret to prevent looting.  But be aware that every county within the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area contains thousands of Indigenous (and historic) burial, cultural, and sacred sites--only a portion of which have been recorded.  Every city in the region is built over or through such sites.  Many residences sit within known burial grounds.  And until the 1970's, these sites were often willfully or unintentionally impacted and destroyed by rampant urban sprawl.  In particular, agricultural lands (which have many legal exemptions due to their zoning) contain many unrecorded Ancestral Sites, many of which are still impacted due to agricultural activities.                                

  6. Destruction of Indigenous burial, cultural, and sacred sites is considered by many as a form of genocide--since it is deliberate destruction of sites considered of utmost cultural importance to a particular ethnic community.  In addition, many individuals throughout history have held beliefs that equate disturbing their physical mortal remains or sacred artifacts with disturbing or destroying their personal 'afterlives'.  There is no objective scientific opinion regarding questions of 'soul' or 'spirit'.  If we believe every person's belief is as important as another's, we must respect every 'spiritual' worldview as being equally valid.  In that sense, we must realize that the concept of destroying a person after that person's biological death could, in that person's worldview, destroy that individual's continued 'spiritual' existence.

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