An Introduction from Chairman Valentin Lopez

Dear Friends,

Our Amah Mutsun Land Trust (AMLT) is pleased to bring you the first edition of our AMLT Newsletter. Our Amah Mutsun Tribe is comprised of the documented descendants of the indigenous peoples taken to Missions San Juan Bautista and Santa Cruz in the greater Monterey Bay area of California.

As Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, I would like to introduce you to our Tribe and Land Trust. To understand the Amah Mutsun it is important to understand our creation story.  Our Creation story occurs at the peak of Mount Umunhum, which was the highest peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Mount Umunhum translates to the home, or place, of the hummingbird in our Mutsun language. All life, plants, wildlife, people, wind, fog, etc. were created at Mount Umunhum; they are our relatives.

Mt. Humunhum Photo courtesy Don DeBold, CC BY 2.0

Mt. Humunhum
Photo courtesy Don DeBold, CC BY 2.0

A Pact with Creator: maintaining the balance of the world

Creator made man and woman last, and gave us the ability to think critically and to solve problems. Creator gave us these abilities because Creator also gave us the responsibility to take care of all living things. From this point forward, our ancestors worked for thousands of years—perhaps 800 generations or more to fulfill the obligations of this Sacred Covenant.

Our ancestors became responsible stewards of the land and ensured they provided the foods and habitats that all wildlife needed to thrive. Our ancestors learned to use the gifts Creator gave us, including using the plants as our foods, medicines, basketry materials and much more.  Another gift provided to us was fire. Fire allowed us to cook our foods, keep us warm and to manage landscapes so grasslands would remain open and provide seeds for birds and other seed-eating animals.   

Our ancestors did not domesticate plants, nor attempt to alter, control, scar, or dominate Mother Earth. Their human imprint was nuanced and included judicious pruning, sowing, and tilling, replanting bulblets and cormlets and dispersing seeds. Our ancestors developed loving and trusting relationships with all our relatives. Most important to our ancestors were our prayers and ceremonies. We have ceremonies for migrating birds and fish, ceremonies for elk and bears, and ceremonies for healing and renewal. Our relationships with all living things combined with our prayers and ceremonies kept balance in our life and our world for millennium.

Resistance and Survival: The Amah Mutsun through colonization

In 1769 our world changed; this is the year Spain and the Catholic Church entered our territories. At first contact there were over 30,000 “Ohlone” Indians who lived in the territories from San Francisco to Monterey. Spanish soldiers, at the direction of mission priests, violently took our ancestors to the missions so they could be converted to Catholicism and made into citizens of Spain.

When the mission period ended in 1833, less than 100 Ohlone Indians survived the brutal conditions of the missions. Mission conditions included slavery; whippings; torture for extended periods of time by being shackled or put into stocks; separation of women, men and children into locked dormitories; and Spanish soldiers repeatedly raping women and children. The horrible conditions and disease resulted in the deaths of over 150,000 people—50% of all California Indians.

The Missison period was followed by the Mexican period of more brutality and slavery. Next was the California / American period which included state-sanctioned genocide. There were executive orders calling for the extermination of California Indians; one of the first treasury bonds issued by California was for the purpose of exterminating California Indians. This period included bounties paid for the killing of Indians; indentured servitude; slavery; and legalized kidnapping and selling of Indians, mostly children. At the turn of the century in 1900 the California Indian population had been reduced by over 96%.

Today, our Amah Mutsun Tribal Band is a federally unrecognized tribe. After our Tribe and most other California Tribes signed treaties in 1851 for 8,500,000 acres of land, California legislators passed a resolution asking that the Senate and President not ratify the Indian Treaties and then sent a delegation to Washington DC to lobby for the treaties to not be ratified. President Fillmore ordered that the California Treaties be sealed for 50 years; these treaties have never been ratified. This action left many, many Indians and Tribes landless, and because they are not federally recognized, they receive no assistance from either the federal or state governments.

Return to the Path: Relearning traditional stewardship

In 2005 Tribal Elders attended a Tribal Council meeting and said Creator has never rescinded the directive that we take care of Mother Earth and all living things. They added that we must find a way to return to this path. From this time forward we began developing partnerships with the National Parks Service, California Department of Parks and Recreation and many other organizations. Our work included relearning the traditional stewardship practices of our ancestors and restoring our relationship with all living things and restoring our prayers and ceremonies.

In 2013, our Tribe founded the AMLT. We could not have done it without the mentorship of our fiscal sponsor, Sempervirens Fund, plus the generous support of The Christensen Fund and Kalliopeia Foundation. Today our land trust is actively working to protect and conserve our sensitive cultural sites; research and restore our traditional stewardship and land management knowledge and traditions; educate the public on the importance of traditional Mutsun stewardship; and to honor our ancestors and fulfill our sacred covenant with Creator. The work of our AMLT is helping our members heal from our historic trauma as it restored our identity and connects us to all that is important.


Chairman Lopez


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