Here First

The work to open academia to Indigenous groups and voices continues with a series that adds modern lives to the archives.

Here First
Aerial view of what we now call Silicon Valley. Courtesy iStock.

Steadily we are bridging the gaps in our understanding and strengthening our connections to the Indigenous cultures that shaped the Valley that Santa Clara University calls home. Not everyone is responsible for the wrongs of the past, but the work toward improvement is shared. SCU is sharing in that responsibility to build a more representative future by incorporating the history and art of local Indigenous people into its curricula and campus.

While improved communication between Indigenous groups and academia has led to more accurate depictions, it remains hard to find real human voices in these stories. To bridge that gap, Undergraduate Learning Librarian Kelci Baughman McDowell and SCU Archivist Erin Louthen coordinated with local Indigenous leaders to teach students what obscure archives cannot.

“In general, I think students want to understand the Indigenous experience in the Bay Area. They want to say the right thing, and use ‘Ohlone’ or ‘Muwekma Ohlone,’” McDowell says. But that’s not necessarily inclusive. “Then that still leaves out a lot of experiences from people who came from other tribes that are now in this area.” So they set out to create space to get specific, hear from individuals from tribes both ancestral to the Bay Area and not, and drill down into specifics.

The Beyond the Archive: Bay Area Indigenous Voices lecture series featured authors, scholars, singers, community organizers, and culinary revivalists. Sessions ranged from the Tamien Nation Chairwoman Quirina Luna Geary presenting on efforts to reverse the impact of colonialism to the owners of Café Ohlone at UC Berkeley discussing how they pass down stories of the Bay Area’s Native people through food.

Each talk was recorded and will be hosted in the library archives, giving future students access to Native-centered tools to better understand Indigenous people. “We’re all on a journey together,” says McDowell about rewriting narrow narratives that don’t account for the multifaceted experiences of Indigenous people in this area and continuing to challenge our own perceptions.


Photos provided by Quirina Geary.

Santa Clara Valley covers the heart of San Jose and San Antonio Valley to the southern tip of Silicon Valley. These lands are what the Tamien people call home. For the Tamien they are intrinsically tied to the earth and have been molded from that ground since time and millennia. The land is more than an ancestral home or a matter of resources, it is who they are.

While a long history of Missions and colonization has created a diaspora for many indigenous people, Tamien Nation Chairwoman Quirina Geary says the Tamien were one of the lucky few. While stripped from their homeland and mislabeled as Ohlone, their tight knit community continued alongside their traditional political system up until the early 90s.

“I grew up learning to gather mushrooms, [the] different types of foods, [and] we have a lot of knowledge still in the tribe,” Geary says. “Our fathers and uncles, everybody hunted, our kids still hunt. There’s different things that continue throughout time and the most important thing was our kinship system, as well as how our value system stayed intact.”

While federal recognition is among the goals of the Tamien Nation, their main priorities are the preservation and regeneration of their culture and language. For Geary it is their way of life rather than bloodline that embody and carry on and define their identity. Land reacquisition is a means to continuing traditions in their most authentic state.

“When we don’t have access to our lands we lose that opportunity of not just showing how to harvest foods for our health, something that we’ve always done, but we lose that intergenerational transmission of information of what to pick [and] how to pick,” Geary says.

The life of the Tamien people and what they stand for is something Geary continues to fight for. From land recognition to being fully recognized as a tribe by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, each push is a step to continuing and reclaiming their legacy. The Tamien Nation aims to treat their citizens equally, protect their culture, reacquire unceded lands, and enhance the lives of Tamien citizens. All of which are difficult feats for an indigenous tribe that cannot live or access their homeland.

“I hear people say all the time ‘all you have to do is pull your boots up by the bootstraps,’” Geary says. “Well we’re barefooted, we don’t have a pair of boots to pull them up with and government policies and all this stuff for a long time has made it that way.”

Government systems and historical injustices continue to create blockades for the Tamien Nation. For many they can only see the wildlands and lush fields they called home through barbed wires. 

Drying Seaweed
The Tamien Nation has continued to pass down their traditions and techniques throughout the generations. From gathering native plants to crafting, each facet of their culture has been preserved and lives on. Photo provided by Quirina Geary.

“We really need to be whole and to start healing, from everything that’s happened to us in the past,” Geary says. “We really need to be home and the only way that we are going to be able to move forward in a whole way is to be back home where we belong.”

While the Tamien Nation has faced many blockades they continue to practice their language and finds ways to continue tradition. Photos provided by Quirina Geary.

Scars of Colonialism

Colonization has colored much of how indigenous people are understood. From the Spanish in 1565 and the Mayflower in 1620 to the history of deposition and genocide culminating in Trail of Tears. However, during a talk on campus that was part of the Beyond the Archive series UC Santa Cruz Lecturer Martin Rizzo-Martinez argued there is far more to the lives of Indigenous people than what is generally understood.

“I think that it’s really important for people to understand that native people didn’t take colonialism without fighting back,” Rizzo-Martinez says. “They fought back at every moment, they challenged colonialism, through ingenuity and through coming up with strategies. I also think it’s really crucial for people to understand that they’re still here today.”

In his book We Are Not Animals: Indigenous Politics of Survival, Rebellion, and Reconstitution in Nineteenth-Century California, Rizzo-Martinez highlights the ways indigenous people showed their opposition to colonization, including direct attacks on missions and reformation of communities. Rizzo-Martinez also highlights that the effects of colonization continue today. Many tribes have fallen under the Ohlone name, a term that was coined largely by anthropologists for the sake of convenience. While the term has since been reclaimed and used by indigenous people it fails to include the numerous tribes living in  the Bay Area.

Front Cover
For Rizzo-Martinez any story focused on the Americas must be centered upon the Native people. Their oral stories are just as important if not more to capturing their perspectives and the lives they led. Photo provided by Martin Rizzo-Martinez.

This post-colonized and heavily westernized world favors written histories. That’s a problem, says Rizzo-Martinez because oral histories have just as much value and are the backbones of many indigenous peoples’ culture.

“Sometimes the oral histories actually tell us more, because written histories can be cultivated and kind of curated in a way to only provide a certain perspective,” Rizzo-Martinez says. “There are perspectives that are often officially omitted from official accounts. Whereas oral histories often speak of traumas or difficult things that happen that are left out of the records.”

Rizzo-Martinez believes that simply story-telling itself from the perspective and lessons they show or pass down is important to any culture. From a historian’s standpoint every human community throughout time has used stories as a way to build community and pass down tradition. Which is why the representation and understanding of indigenous people is paramount.

“I think that any stories that are centering on the Americas should be centered on Native people, or at least have them very highly represented in the story,” Rizzo-Martinez says. “And we’re a long way from being in that situation.”

Food of the Land

Photos provided by Ohlone Cafe.

An iridescent abalone shell, a vivid blanket, and woven baskets sat at the center of SCU’s California Mission Room. They called to a people recognized by land acknowledgements and museum artifacts; however, these items were not like relics sleeping within an archive. They are part of what Café Ohlone co-founders Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino call a living and thriving Ohlone culture that has never died.

Located at UC Berkeley Café Ohlone serves Ohlone food with some modern twists and aims to promote Ohlone culture as a whole. Café Ohlone is the culmination of Medina and Trevino’s efforts to provide a space for Ohlone representation in the culinary world and educate the public about the original and continuous inhabitants of the Bay area. From rainbow trout weaving through rushing rivers to brightly colored salads, Café Ohlone’s food is a reflection of their heritage and the land.

“You see the big tree forests up in the hills, the dry brown hills that are there, all of the flowers that are coming up,” Medina said. “The purples of the lupines, the oranges of the poppies going down to the Bayshore where you see the pickle weed marshes and tule reed that’s growing. All of those colors we see reflected onto the plates that are here of the foods that we make.”

The acorns in the cakes sold at Café Ohlone are gathered from the hills nearby by Medina and his family. Each dish is part of what they call mak-‘amham, ‘our food’ in Chochenyo. While some operations have modernized, weaved baskets are still used to sift acorn flour and the abalone shells remain as staple serving dishes for Café Ohlone. 

Their elders have continued to safeguard their traditions since the missionary times. Like a trickling stream information has been passed down and language shared in hushed whispers. However Medina is proud of his native tongue Chochenyo and he strives to share and teach it to his family. 

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The Ohlone Cafe works towards the restoration of Ohlone Indian culinary traditions in order to empower Ohlone people and their rich cultural identity. Their menu changes depending upon seasonality but always reflects their cultural roots and traditions. Photo provided by Ohlone Cafe.

Similarly Trevino works to restore his language, Rumsen, to Carmel Valley and strengthen the identity of Ohlone people. “We are here today and those treasures are still here in the world for us to bring out and to bring back into practice,” Trevino said. “And then to let those things spread in the public consciousness again when you all are ready to treat us with respect.”

To help bring indigenous people to the forefront Medina and Trevino have found food to be like communion. It represents the beauty and vibrancy of their culture. The different palettes and dishes show a narrative of growth and dignity that has been buried by antiquated western accounts of indigenous people.

“When you have a mouthful of Ohlone food [and] if you’ve got a belly full of good things,” Medina said. “How can you disrespect a culture and say that those people aren’t around anymore? [Especially] when they made you a delicious meal and they taught you something new.”

One dish at a time the duo hope to shatter the misconceptions surrounding indigenous people and take control of the narrative. At their June 2022 re-opening in Berkeley, the voices of their people will sing in Chochenyo for all to hear reminding everyone that they’ve never been gone.

“The fact that any of this can happen today,” Medina says. “The fact that we can see this healing take hold, and we can see the culture grow stronger, the old ways become new again, and be able to see the elders leading this work making it possible for us. That’s not loss at all. That’s not defeat.”

Decolonizing Sound

Music majors Francis Bertotti-Metoyer ’22 and Sophia Flores ’22 are embarking on their own journey to learn and explore the shape of music. Just as colonization has altered the landscape and approach to history, it has also altered the music and sounds of the area. They hope to take what they’ve learned at SCU and promote social change.

Their project consists of six vocal and piano arrangements inspired by the natural sounds of the Bay Area and the climate and post-colonizations issues that persist. Flores explains that while they can’t speak for the Indigenous people they hope their music will highlight how redistributing land back to Indigenous communities might help break the hold of colonization. 

“When Fran and I decided to do this project, we wanted it to have an impact and we wanted it to mean something we wanted to talk about,” Flores says. “Really [just about] the land that we’re on and both of us are very interested in indigenous rights and activism around that and learning more about that we’re both really new to this topic. We didn’t want to just make the project for the project’s sake. We wanted it to be something that was impactful.”

Steadily we are bridging the gaps in our understanding and strengthening our connections with the indigenous people who call Santa Clara County their home. Each interaction is meaningful and based in reciprocity. Not everyone is responsible for the wrongs of the past, but the improvements and changes for the future are shared. “You are responsible for your own actions today,” Geary says. “And somehow trying to make those past wrongs right, [ask] what can you do to make sure that people are treated with respect, treated equally and have access to knowledge that was given by our ancestors or the past or even today. It’s about developing partnership.”

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