NOTES FROM THE NATIVE STEWARDSHIP CORPS
By Abran Lopez, AMLT Native Steward
The AMLT Native Stewardship Corps reconnects Amah Mustun Tribal members with traditional cultural practices, places, and knowledge through conservation fieldwork, and cultural education. In 2015 we implemented nine weeks of stewardship, research, and outreach work with six Native Stewards. In 2016 we hope to grow this important program to include more participants and more time on the land. Here Native Steward, Abran Lopez, explains what the Native Stewardship Corps means to him and his tribe:
My name is Abran Lopez, I am 33 years old and I am a member of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. In 2013, Tribal Elder Tillie Luna invited me to attend an Amah Mutsun Tribal Wellness Meeting in Fresno. Our Wellness meetings are designed to help members deal with personal and Tribal issues and to help us recover from historic trauma.
At that time the path I was on no longer showed promise. I was at a point in my life when I didn’t seem motivated by the direction or choices in I had made. It was very uncharacteristic of me to speak up in large groups where I was new; I hadn’t been to a Tribal meeting in years. They mentioned they were looking for people to work in the Native Stewardship Corps. To my surprise I spoke up and offered the only thing felt I had of worth to offer the Tribe, my back and my hands. I saw it as a chance to connect to my Indian identity and apply myself to my Tribal community.
It’s been three years since I began the work that has become the passion in life. At the time it seemed like an impossible task to connect me in any meaningful way to my traditional Native roots. The offer to help my Tribe in land stewardship and management seemed like a divine sign or an answer to my prayers. It was a turning point in my life.
I’m not educated, I never finished high school, and I seldom had much money. But I’ve always known that I was a dependable and hard worker and I wanted to help my Tribe. I remember saying, “If you need hands, I’m ready.” These words seemed to flow on their own and this was my first step into the path that I now pursue.
I now work as an Amah Mutsun Native Steward. I’d like to share with you my view of what I believe a Mutsun Steward is. Because of our Tribal history, we must revitalize and restore our indigenous knowledge and culture. I remember thinking during initial work outings of removing invasive plants and clearing areas for important medicine plants, that we were doing rather basic tasks. I didn’t fully realize the importance of this scope of work or how so many other things would be affected by it. I thought we would just periodically clear out weeds.
I soon gathered that we were working on a sacred site and that our ancestors stewarded these plants for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years. The medicine plants we were tending were important for prayer, ceremony, protection, and keeping our life and our world in balance. The plants also provided protection for our ancestors and for all creatures in the valley that depended on them. As a result of tending this patch of ceremonial plants, their numbers increased to the point where we were able respectfully gather them last year. Now we will see the return of this valuable plant in our ceremony.
Taking this new path in life has given me chances I would not have had before, and introduced me to people I would not have met otherwise. I have worked with firefighters, archaeologists, and traditional culture-bearers, and many others. I feel very grateful to all those who teach and share their knowledge with us, including researchers, volunteers, and Tribal elders, as well as to all those who support the work of the Amah Mutsun Land Trust.