A MESSAGE FROM CHAIRMAN VALENTIN LOPEZ
We’re very happy to announce that on January 12th, former President Barack Obama designated the Cotoni-Coast Dairies as a National Monument. The 5,800 acre Cotoni-Coast Dairies is in Santa Cruz County and extends from the steep slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains to marine terraces overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This National Monument encompasses ancient archaeological sites, riparian and wetland habitats, coastal prairies, and woodlands that include stands of coast redwood. Our Amah Mutsun Tribe and Land Trust supported this effort and actively worked on the campaign to achieve this designation.
Our creation story tells us that Creator very specifically selected our people to live on these lands. Creator then gave us the responsibility to take care of these lands and all living things. Creator has never rescinded this sacred obligation and that is why in 2016 our Tribe signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Bureau of Land Management who are the property owners. This MOU provides assurances to our Tribe that we can continue our traditional ceremonies and cultural practices on these lands as well as have access to steward, tend, and gather the native plants that are so important to our culture. Our Tribe believes that National Monument status will allow our people access to protect these lands until the last sunrise; this is why we actively supported this campaign.
In our last Newsletter we discussed how our Tribe is opposing the sand and gravel mining proposal four miles south of Gilroy. The site of this proposal is known to our people as Juristac and is now referred to as Sargent Ranch. Juristac translates to “Place of the Big Head” and is the home of our Spiritual Leader, Kuksui. Juristac was the location of many of our sacred ceremonies. Juristac is also the location of four known village sites; a river and many springs; an abundance of wildlife; and for thousands of years and hundreds of generations, many of our ancestors were buried at this location. In 1862 there was a smallpox epidemic, and over 300 of our ancestors were buried at this location.
As our Tribe works to oppose this effort we recognize the immense injustice of being a federally unrecognized tribe. There are laws that protect the cultural sites and resources of federally recognized tribes that do not extend to unrecognized tribes. At the same time, there are laws that exclude Native Americans from the protections that apply to non-natives. For example, when a construction project uncovers the remains of three or more non-native individuals, the site is recognized as a burial ground and construction must be stopped and left undisturbed. However, if the remains are Native American the remains can be removed and reburied elsewhere. To the Amah Mutsun, the disturbance of the remains of our ancestors is the most serious violation of our spiritual belief.
A few years back I participated in the reburial of 188 ancestors who were removed so a Safeway Supermarket could be built. If the remains were not Native American the removal of these remains could not have happened. We will continue to oppose the approval of the mining proposal. We believe that if enough people contact Santa Clara County Planning Department and County Board of Supervisors and tell them that they must respect Native American culture, religion, and environments that they will not approve the proposed mining on Juristac.
In 1885 the Santa Cruz Mission was demolished to make room for a larger church. The remains of over 2,400 bodies were dug up and reburied in a very small, unmarked mass grave. Over 2,000 of the remains were of our Native Ancestors of which over one half were children. On December 12th, 2016 a monument was unveiled to acknowledge and give honor to those buried in the mass grave. We are thankful to Jim Thoits, Bill Simpkins, and Norm Poitevan for their generous donation that made this monument possible. Our Tribe will hold a ceremony for all who are buried in the mass grave during the summer solstice. We will invite the public.
Our Tribe continues to support and pray for the efforts of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as they endeavor to protect water and sacred sites. We hope you will join us in our support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.