Published in the September 6 – September 19, 2017 issue of Gilroy Life

At Santa Clara County Parks’ annual “Family Day” at Chitactac Adams County Park, children will learn about the Native American culture of the Amah Mutsun people who made their home in this region for thousands of years. There will be learning stations and games for kids and tours that will remind guests of the rich Ohlone heritage still present in South County.

There are living descendants of the Amah Mutsun. They did not all die when the Spanish and American tried to obliterate their societies. I read a recent quote from Val Lopez, the Amah Mutsun tribal chairman, saying they would “continue the path of their ancestors until the last sunrise.”

I have had the pleasure of meeting Lopez, as well the tribal historian, Ed Ketchum. My admiration and respect for their determination to tell their story grows each time I hear them speak. Certainly, the tragic tale of disease, loss of cultural identity and lands, and the poverty experienced by the survivors is heart wrenching. Yet, the Amah Mutsun story is not just about the past. They are moving forward, and that fact is what I think should be emphasized. Even though may have been pushed down, traumatized and discouraged that they are not recognized by United States government after years of unfulfilled treaties and promises, they are not a broken people. Through the leadership of the Tribal Council, the Amah Mutsun have established a “Relearning Program” in association with U.C. Santa Cruz Arboretum. The intent is sustain their “cultural revitalization by recovering dormant knowledge and wisdom particularly as it pertains to traditional ecological practices and resource management.”

The Ohlone were highly skilled landscape managers tending their native environment to optimize their abundant wildlife and plant resources. During the Family Day, demonstrations will be available about acorn processing, seed harvesting, fishing techniques, as well as my favorite, the many uses of the soap root plant.

The Amah Mutsun are currently studying and restoring a tribal area known as Quiroste Valley. On the inland side of today’s Ano Nuevo State Park, the Quiroste people developed a major village that was significant for the trading of shell beads and stone tools. The Quiroste were also largely responsible for the success of the Portola expedition in 1769 in “discovering” San Francisco Bay. Without the help of the Quiroste, it is probable Portola’s men would have been unable to continue their journey through the rugged shoreline and mountains of the San Mateo coast. The Amah Mutsun Land Trust was formed in 2012 to pursue additional working relationships with agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management. The Cotoni-Coast Dairies property near Davenport is now one of our newest national monuments.

The land trust provides a structure through which the Amah Mutsun can “conduct landscape research, perform cultural ceremonies, restore native vegetation, educate supporters and young tribal members, and further strengthen the tribe’s connection to its land.”

Lopez’s calendar is staggering. In September, he will represent the First Peoples of the Bay Area when Mt. Umunhum is re-opened for public access. The Ohlone refer to this sacred site as the resting place of the hummingbird for it was the hummingbird that brought them fire during the creation of the land and its people.

Later in September, Lopez will offer an opening prayer for the Committee for Green Foothills event at Coyote Ranch. And recently, he was asked to comment on the proposed expansion of the Pacheco Reservoir. I’m not certain of Val’s schedule, but join in celebrating the Amah Mutsun culture at “the dancing place” — Chitactac.

Mike Monroe

Mike Monroe

Gilroy resident Mike Monroe is a Morgan Hill business owner and naturalist. He is a docent for Santa Clara County Parks. He wrote this for Gilroy Life.
Mike Monroe