When people think of California Indian culture and cultural resources, they often look at tangible objects such as basketry, housing, clothing, food, and dance regalia such as feathers, whistles, skins, clapper sticks, etc. These are all important manifestations of Mutsun culture, but to understand the culture of the Amah Mutsun Tribe, one must understand two important axioms.
Axiom I. There is no natural hierarchy in our culture that categorizes plants, animals, minerals, or humans as being above any of the others. It is our belief that the Creator made us all – therefore we are all equal. Men, women, and children were all created equally and are respected equally. However, the Mutsun are a matriarchal society. Women have the ability to bring life – possessing the strength to bear the burden of two souls within them. Men possess physical strength to provide and protect – creating balance in the family and community. We believe human beings were gifted with a higher level of intelligence and reasoning for the express purpose of protecting and caring for all other life.
Axiom II. The Creator, in his infinite wisdom, placed the Mutsun in the lands of Popeloutchum, our homeland, as the protectors and stewards of the lands, waters, plants, and other creatures of this place. The Creator blessed the Amah Mutsun with these magnificent lands. We were given a mild climate, bountiful foods from the land and sea, and a landscape that – even today – is considered among the most beautiful in the world.
As our ancestors worked to fulfill their obligation to protect the plants and animals of the land, they also studied their non-human relatives for thousands of years. The Bear Clans, Bird Clans, etc. were given the responsibility to learn all they could about those creatures.
The knowledge they collected was shared with their Tribe and their descendants. To most effectively manage their landscapes, the Mutsun were given fire upon their creation, and learned to use fire at specific intervals and in specific ways such that it became a force of renewal – of nourishment – rather than a destructive force. In this way, our ancestors helped seeds to germinate and create new shoots, preferential food of deer, elk, antelope, rabbits and other animals. The fire-cleansed land allowed better hunting for our condor, eagle, hawk relatives. Burning also prevented the accumulation of brush and other fuels which, as we see today, build up and cause catastrophic fires that destroy habitat, homes and property, and diminish productivity.
As our ancestors studied the plants, they learned their uses for food, medicine, basketry, clothing, and many other uses. These plants and this knowledge were given to us by the Creator. Our ancestors were still learning at the time the Colonizers arrived. Today, the Mutsun look to the future by restoring our ethnobotanical knowledge, restoring our relationship with these plants such that we can serve their needs once again.
Because we have responsibility to care for our finned and winged brothers, we must protect and conserve our rivers (water quality) and the sky (air quality). We must help ensure that their populations can move and interact (habitat corridors) in order to maintain healthy and resilient populations.
Our ancestors believed that the Creator always watches over us. When we pray, we burn sage, root, bay leaves, and other herbs depending on the season or particular ceremony – so the smoke carries our prayers closer to the Creator. Smoke also appeases the Creator as these plants are sweet smelling to multiple spirits or intercessors as our prayers are carried onward. Using plants in prayer represents an element of truth – of balance. In a similar way, many local peaks and mountains are sacred to us, as our ancestors would often pray from the top of hills and mountains so they could be closer to the Creator.
As Mutsun People, we never felt that we owned the land – rather that we belong to it. When we talk about “our land” – or “makke pire”, we are referring to the land to which we belong…rather than the land which we “own.”
When we speak of our “cultural resources”, we look all around at the mountains, the meadows, the waterways and wetlands, the air and scenic vistas – as well as those buried beneath them, and those who inhabit them. Those are our cultural resources – all that you see holds value to the Mutsun People.