"Beyond Recognition" Details the Struggles of the Ohlone Tribe

“Beyond Recognition” Details the Struggles of the Ohlone Tribe

Our radio adaptation and update of the film Beyond Recognition by Underexposed films: “After decades struggling to protect her ancestors’ burial places, a Native woman from a non-federally recognized Ohlone tribe and her allies occupy a sacred site to prevent its desecration. They then vow to follow a new path — to establish the first women-led urban Indigenous land trust.”

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Transcript Below

Featuring:
  • Corrina Gould, Chochenyo/Karkin Ohlone
  • Gregg Castro, T’rowt’raahh Salinan Rumsien Ohlone
  • Maura Sullivan, Coastal Band Chumash
  • Johnella La Rose, Shoshone- Bannock Tribe
  • Vivian Thorpe, Washoe Tribe
  • Wounded Knee DeOcampo, Me-Wuk Tribe
  • Lisa Tiny Grey Garcia Co-Founder Homefulness and POOR magazine

Music:

  • Andrew Bird
  • Justin Wasterlain & Brian Wismar,
  • Sad Bastard Book Club
  • Agrimonia
  • T.I.W.A.E.I.S
  • Additional music for radio adaptation by Anitek

TRANSCRIPT

NARR: This week on Making Contact:

Corrina Gould: “When I look at the Bay Area it’s always home. And when I say home that means I was originally planted there. My ancestors have been there since the beginning of time. So. I’m always home. So that’s a blessing. But there’s a double edged sword. This other piece of me has to do with seeing bulldozers pulling up street and not knowing if my ancestors are going to be there as well. And knowing that all the 425 plus burial sites of my ancestors, have been destroyed because of development.”

NARR: Today you’ll hear excerpts from the documentary, Beyond Recognition. The film was Directed and Produced by Michelle Grace Steinberg of Underexposed Films and Co-Produced by Robyn Bykofsky. It looks at the challenges faced by indigenous people in the San Francisco Bay Area whose tribes are not federally recognized.

I’m Charlotte Landes your host this week. We’ll follow Corrina Gould, Johnella LaRose and other native Ohlones as they occupy a sacred site in Vallejo, CA to prevent its development and desecration.

Corrina Gould: “It’s about the survival of our culture and who we are. In every other way we have been erased. This generation has to make that leap in order for us to survive.”

NARR: After the occupation fails to stop the development on the sacred site, these Ohlone activists vow to follow a new path

Corrina Gould: “So what we’re trying to do now is create a land trust. Space where Ohlone people can come together. Revitalize language and song and dance and ceremony. And talk about looking at the Bay Area in a different way. Doing what our ancestors taught us to do. To take care of the land. How do we do that with cities brought up all around us.

NARR: The land trust will allow Gould and LaRose’s organization, more options to interact with the State — even without federal recognition. They named this new effort the “Sogorea Te Land Trust,” after the sacred site they occupied to protect — Sogorea Te’.

CORRINA GOULD: there was particular kinds of colonization that happened to California Indians up and down the coast:

GREGG CASTRO: The Spanish sponsored the Catholic Church to come in, and establish missions to domesticate the native people. They didn’t want to get rid of them. They wanted a labor force. The way to do that is to disconnect their cultural cohesion. Native people got brought into the mission baptized, 90 percent of the people died. Then the following American period where they were just interested in dead Indians so they can take the land. And the state of California made these crazy laws which made it illegal to be Indian in California.

GREGG CASTRO: In the 50s and 60s you had all these tribal groups that were destitute; people dying starving economic depression. And people saw that especially during the activism that came in and 70’s with Alcatraz and civil rights.

So people said we need to help these Indians do something for them. And they came up with this process.

MAURA SULLIVAN : Of the thousands of cultures that lived and continue to live here in the United States. Only a fraction of those are tribes that have federal recognition status meaning that they have a sovereign relationship with the United States. Everyone else: we don’t have the same rights to protect our ancestors, the same rights to education and the same rights to healthcare. Federal recognition is more than just a name. It’s a whole complex system of how we navigate the world as native people.

GREGG CASTRO: It’s a process that is about us. It’s not by us, for us or with us. Even one of the developers of the criteria testified in Congress to his belief that the way it’s being used is racist. It has made it virtually impossible for Mission California Indians to be recognized. There is too much economics involved along the coast for government to allow it.

-music-

CORRINA GOULD: I always knew who I was because my mother always told us who we were. So growing up I’ve already known that I was Ohlone. I was an Indian woman on my own land. No matter what the federal government said. I really acknowledge people that are doing the recognition process and the hard work that that must entail. But that is not my dream. My life’s work is to do the work of the ancestors, is to recreate a place for them to come back to. To ensure that the culture and the practices continue on for the next seven generations. — Having people realize that Ohlone people still exist has created a different way of looking at recognition. — People just really have come to the bay area not knowing what existed here prior to them being here.

You can go to different places in the world and you can touch those sacred places; you can go to Mexico and Egypt and you can touch those pyramids that are there.

When you bring your family and friends to the Bay Area where are those monuments of the people that were once here? Do you take them to them you take them to the mall?!

{editors note: The Emeryville Bay Street Shopping Mall complex was built on top an Ohlone shellmound and burial ground, amidst much opposition from native people, preservationists, anthropologists and others from the region and around the state.}

Person: A fake 50 foot shell mound filled with Whitewashed of History. Adding insult to injury! It’s saying nothing about Ohlone burials. Nothing about the hundreds of bodies already removed to create space for the foundation of the new mall. Nothing about the vibrant Ohlone community alive today.

CORRINA GOULD: I want to thank you each and every one of you for coming out and supporting this 14th year of the shout out protest. When we stand here it’s a sacred site. This is NOT a mall.

Wounded Knee DeOcampo: Everywhere I travel. I always pray. At these sacred sites of our ancestors. That’s why I’m here today. I welcome you here. I hope you offer your prayers to them.

Johnella LaRose: We believe that these ancestors are taking care of us and we’re going to become ancestors ourselves. And so if we don’t take care of these ancestors we’re not going to get those messages. And those teachings that we need to move on in this life. We have to do a good job of keeping them safe in their burial sites.

Vivian Thorpe: They intentionally keep us invisible because they don’t want any attention raised about what they’re doing to these burial grounds throughout California. I wonder how people would like it if you went into their cemetery and built a bunch of condominiums with the bodies still in place.

{Discussion with Shopper}

This mall is actually on top of people? yes. So. You say right now these people who are shopping on top of people who were dead (who) they dug up and took over to berkeley museum?

They’re still here. Well you know what, I’m taking this stuff back right now. because that’s wrong! {walks off with her shopping bags}

NARR: This is JONELLA LaROSE:

When you tell the story of land. Even though people may not be on their traditional homelands they may not be from this country. But the thing is that they understand when you start talking about land, you start talking about water, you start talking about being a part of something people can resonate with that. And that has a real deep deep meaning.

NARR: Corrina Gould from Indian People Organizing for Change

One of the things that you can see in any given neighborhood is three or four churches or synagogues or mosques. Where do you see those same kind of sacred places for the Ohlone people? Native people have the same right to practice their religion in the way that they want to and that for us has always been outside in nature. ————–I grew up in Oakland. The world grew up around us. That has always been my village site the village side of Huichin. Where I come from. My good friend Johnella LaRose and i created an organization called Indian people Organizing for Change and began to do sacred sites work in the Bay Area.

We would get phone calls that they were pulling up my ancestors. How do we stop them. We walk to those shell mounds for four years trying to stop the bodies from coming back out of the ground. My ancestors also come from this really special place. Called Sogorea Te. April 14th 2011 the city of Vallejo where they were actually going to bulldoze it through where my ancestors are buried. We put out a call. And we asked people to come. And on that day we showed up we lit a sacred fire that lasted for 109 days. And we didn’t leave that space. And I really feel like our ancestors were there. Because what happened was that people from all walks of life came. And we created a village very similar to the village that must have once been their. We left, we thought, in victory…

–break music–

NARR: This is Making Contact. You’ve been listening to excerpts from the film, Beyond Recognition, by Michelle Grace Steinberg. We’ll link to the film and the community groups at our website radioproject.org. That’s where you can also sign up and be the first to know about our new episodes and behind the scenes info. So join-in at radioproject.org !

NARR: Let’s get back to the film and the occupation of Sogorea Te’.

Although the occupation halted the development temporarily, the city of Vallejo did not directly negotiate with group from “Indian People Organizing for Change” because they did not represent federally recognized tribes. Instead, the city signed a cultural easement with the Yolo County-based Yocha De He Wintun Nation, the closest federally recognized tribe. Under the agreement, the tribe gained the legal right to oversee and protect the area.

However, the Yocha De He tribe and is a good 2 hours from the Ohlone area, has little connection to the Sogorea Te struggle. Within months, they made concessions to the Greater Vallejo Recreation District, a government agency.

NARR: This is CORRINA GOULD:

We went back in October. And we had seen the devastation of the land that had happened. And it felt like a kick in the gut. It’s always hard coming back here because when we left here the place looked a lot different than this. What ended up happening was a few months after we left, they had desecrated the area that we asked them not to.

Person: To actually be here and to actually see the land and really feel it is so sad. It really is.

Corrina Gould: We fought, and I think some people will say we lost because the Ohlone people aren’t federally recognized. I think that we won, just not in the material world. This land brought us all together for a reason to get a better idea of who we were as human beings. Sogorea Te’ was that important pivotal plank in us realizing that there was a different way of doing this organizing… and I think that that’s what a land trust does that it gives us the opportunity to be recognized in a different kind of way.

Building community is what’s going to help us survive through all the things that are happening in this world. And I think that that was the biggest lesson I learned at Sogorea Te. Anybody that walked through that gate had a place to be there. I’ve been able to connect back to the land.”

–Music Ohlone Clapping sticks —

NARR: Sogorea Te’ is the first women-led urban Indigenous land trust in the country. Land trusts have been used by indigenous people across the country to preserve their historic lands, but the idea to preserve parcels of land in an urban environment, and return them to indigenous stewardship is something new.

NARR This is Dr. Beth Rose Middleton:

forming a land trust is always challenging. — a non-profit organization that’s sole focus is on conservation stewardship and you can broaden it to mean cultural conservation.

This is Johnella LaRose:

I like to look at maps a lot you know and I like to look at the land and I really just see like little plots of land everywhere all over the bay area that is sacred space just like Segora Te —-People can just be there, if nothing else there, and just have their place to pray. Women as mothers as grandmothers we have this connection that’s undeniable and we have to do something we have to leave something for these children.

That inter-generational aspect of it matches I think people’s relationship to place over time in the way you want it to carry forth into future generations. And there’s not many legal tools that do that.

I learned so much from the young people. There’s this idea sometimes that because you’re older you think you know more but that is absolutely NOT true.

Dr. Beth Rose Middleton:

A land trust is a non-profit organization focused on conservation. Citizens who are tired of waiting for public support for conserving places that are important to them. Raise their own funds and purchase properties in order to protect them. —- Generally land trusts in the Bay Area have been used for protecting open space protecting certain habitats or species of concern and protecting agricultural uses. From a biological focus on conservation. There’s a lot of money to be raised for that.

The land trust that Corrina and Janella are working on is different for a number of reasons. They are going to be looking at urban areas at sites that we typically think of as built upon that are actually sites of a lot of deep history. This is a more cultural focus on conservation.

The challenges in developing this urban Native women led Land Trust are similar to the challenges faced in general by non-federally recognized tribes in the urban areas. The reason tribes are not recognized there– or one of the big reasons — is because of the extreme development of that land and the extreme value of that land. You’re having to buy back your own land.

CORRINA GOULD: One of my other dreams to have happen is the 15,000 ancestral remains that are at UC Berkeley and the 15,000 ancestral remains at San Francisco State, will go back into our land before I die.

{meeting with CILS}

Dorothy Alther, Executive Director of CA Indian Legal Services. I’m the executive director for CILS — California Indian Legal Services.

Corrina Gould: Thank you so much for meeting with me. We’ve been doing all of this work in education in the Bay Area about the remains of our ancestors being held in all of these places and the desecration of our sacred sites and all of these kinds of things. But then when you really get down to it there’s nowhere to put them. So that’s one of the reasons why I think it’s important that we get a land base.

How do we begin the legal process of doing those kinds of things?

Dorothy Alther, unrecognized tribes now can actually request repatriation of those remains. You don’t have to be a federally recognized tribe in order to obtain remains. So it’s just another thing to think about if you are wanting to pursue those remains once you have your land. What you may need to look at is whether or not there is private ownership which would allow a portion of their land to be utilized by the tribe.

Corrina Gould: When we talk about land we talk about for a process and many people as indigenous people of this land. Our DNA is in this ground. And we come from this place that we know we have original teachings and that those original teachings are NOT going to do us any good if we don’t share them with everyone. And so when we began to re-envision as a community what does it look like to haveland? —And it’s not just my vision. One of the things that we can do is to begin at home.

NARR: This is Lisa Tiny Grey Garcia:

This is liberation for all of you to be here for all of us to be here. For all of us to be rethinking of the ideas of the system that’s out there is the only system that’s available. Because it’s not.

Corrina Gould: Tiny is creating an interdependent way of living; this off- the -grid piece of land in the middle of urban Oakland where they’re able to build community in a different kind of way.

Lisa Tiny Grey Garcia: Homefullness is a poor people led and indigenous people led movement. We as poor people who have been removed and displaced and gentrified, are stewarding this land. When we started this project the first thing we did is to ask our Ohlone brothers and sisters whether we could build here. We have a small budding farm; we’re going to get a goat. We also have to teach our children how to take care of our bodies and take care of their elders. Corrina and other indigenous elders will be the teachers here.

Corrina Gould: It gives me an idea of something that’s already here. So it makes me hopeful. Around getting the land trust really soon.

–music–

Jonella La Rose

The land was taken and that was such a deep soul wound. When we talk about this land trust. It’s healing for everybody. It’s not just “oh we’re Native people we’re close to the land we have this spiritual connection.” Everybody has a spiritual connection but it’s been lost. You’ll see these lots or old abandoned houses. You just can see the possibilities.

Corrina: We can recreate a shell mound so that our ancestors to be buried at.

Jonella : If a family wanted to have a ceremony for their child’s naming.

Corrina: Bring back our languages and our songs and our dances.

Jonella: People can grow their traditional foods learn about water learn about land.

Corrina: Hopefully other places in the United States and go back to doing something similar.

As we began to dream about what this land trust is, it’s a way for us as human beings to come back to be human beings a way for us to learn how to treat each other with respect. A Way for us to re-envision the Bay Area. We can create a healing for the people who are here. Not just Ohlone people or people that exist on this land.”

NARR: When the film you’re hearing came out in 2014, Corrina and the group Indian People Organizing for Change, or IPOC, were still working to form the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust. That goal has now been realized. — And they secured the first piece of land! the Lisjan Site in east Oakland. This site was donated by Planting Justice who also maintains a certified organic nursery on the same property.

While the Trust continues its work to find additional parcels of land, they also need funding so that they can acquire any available plots they find. So, they’ve established the Shuumi Land Tax for non-native people living on Chochenyo and Karkin Oholone lands. Shuumi means gift in Chochenyo and the tax is entirely voluntary. We will include a link on our site to Sogorea Te’s website where they offer to calculate a suggested tax based on the value of the land you are living on.

As they write on their website:

If you live on Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone land, you are inadvertently benefitting from the genocide waged against the Ohlone people and the theft of their land… Paying the Shuumi Land Tax is a small way to acknowledge this legacy and contribute to its healing…Shuumi invites you to think about what you can offer, find out what is useful, and make it happen”

NARR: You’ve been listening to Making Contact, and you can find us at radioproject.org. The voices of Corrina Gould, Johnella LaRose, Dr. Beth Rose Middleton, Lisa Tiny Grey Garciawere brought to you by Michelle Grace Steinberg and her film, Beyond Recognition. You can access the full movie online at underexposed films.com/beyond recognition

This episode of Making Contact was produced by Charlotte Landes and Lisa Rudman. The Making Contact team also includes Monica Lopez, Anita Johnson, Salima Hamirani, Aysha Choudhary, Jackie Marusiak and Dylan Heuer.

You can sign up for our updates at radioproject.org. Follow us on social media and send us your feedback and topic suggestions — we’d love to hear from you. ( Thanks for listening to Making Contact! )

POSTSCRIPT:

NARR: Hey Listeners, here’s a special shout-out to indigenous media makers, native-stations and communities:

For over two decades, Making Contact has aired on several tribal radio stations (among our 150 affiliates.) We’ve featured reporting by, and voices of, indigenous communities, for all to hear.

Thanks to support from the Christensen Fund, we’ve been able to co-create programs with Ohlone people in Making Contact’s local Community Storytelling Fellowships.

We’re more committed than ever to working with our indigenous partners.

Now — we invite you to help us keep that work going. Please share this program with your friends, subscribe to our podcast — connect us to your communities’ native media-makers, and stories.

Please contact us at radioproject.org.