Published in the June 13 – 26, 2018 issue of Gilroy Life
Just outside of Gilroy in the southern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains lies an expansive area of natural land full of wildlife, untouched beauty, history, and culture. For thousands of years, Juristac, publicly known as Sargent Ranch, was the home and heart of sacred ceremonies for the Northern California Native American tribe, the Amah Mutsun.
Not only is Juristac important to Amah Mutsun spirituality and culture, but it is also home to many species of wildlife, some of which are endangered. Unfortunately, Juristac is threatened by the proposed Sargent Ranch quarry project, which plans to take place during a 30-year period and occupy 320 acres of previously untouched land while building a 1.6-mile conveyor belt, a 14-acre processing plant, three 200-foot-deep open quarry pits, and a 30-foot-wide road. The construction of the quarry site would pollute and destroy both the natural beauty of Amah Mutsun sacred land and countless wildlife habitats.
In 1797 during the construction of Mission San Juan Bautista, the Amah Mutsun were exiled from sacred land, forced into labor, and prohibited from practicing their culture, language, and traditions.
Despite the obstacles, the Amah Mutsun were resilient and determined to maintain their culture and traditions, eventually re-emerging as a tribe in the early 1900s. Since the tribe’s re-emergence, the Amah Mutsun have made it their mission to support tribal members and to keep cultural teachings alive. A primary obligation includes protecting their land and its inhabitants, both plants and animals. The Amah Mutsun are therefore campaigning to protect and preserve Juristac from the Sargent Ranch Quarry Project.
To Amah Mutsun ancestors, Juristac was a place of healing, renewal, and spirituality. Juristac translates to “place of the Big Head,” in honor of Mutsun ceremonial dances affiliated with their spiritual leader, Kuksui. The Amah Mutsun continue to regard Juristac as a sacred place just as the wildlife in Juristac continue to call this land, home. The construction of the quarry project would destroy the grasslands, freshwater ponds and streams, riparian corridors, and oak woodland. Damaging these habitats would negatively affect native species, including the American badger, the burrowing owl, and federally listed threatened species, the California red-legged frog and the California tiger salamander.
In today’s world, it is rare to find land that has yet to be developed upon. When development begins, it is also impossible to restore the land to its natural beauty.
The Sargent Ranch Quarry project would demolish a place of spirituality and beauty. It would devastate habitats to many species of wildlife, who have no say in what happens to their home. While development is often perceived as inevitable, it does not need to be the fate for remaining natural land. The few remaining untouched areas of land must be protected before they seize to exist.
The Amah Mutsun have taken a stand to preserve and protect Juristac, but they cannot do so without help from the public.
You can help the Amah Mutsun campaign by signing the petition to protect Juristac at www.protectjuristac.org, and call, email, or write to the Santa Clara County planning commissioners and supervisors with a request to deny the approval of the Sargent Ranch Quarry project.
Valentin Lopez is the chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. He wrote this column for Gilroy Life.