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Language Is Life, Land Is Sacred

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Making Contact’s Community Storytelling Fellow Vincent Medina is a Chochenyo Ohlone Native American who is a part of a young generation working to revitalize the Chochenyo language for future generations.  Making Contact’s Community Storytelling Fellow Isabella Zizi is a young native-american environmentalist shaped by the 2012 Chevron Refinery Explosion and by her indigenous women elders in the Refinery Corridor Healing Walks in the Bay Area of California.

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TRANSCRIPT –see below


  • Vincent Medina, Chochenyo Ohlone, Language and Culture Activist, Making Contact Community Storytelling Fellow
  • Gabriel Medina, Chochenyo Ohlone
  • Dottie Galvan, Chochenyo Ohlone Elder
  • Cathy G., Chochenyo Ohlone Elder
  • Isabella Zizi, Making Contact Community Storytelling Fellow,  Idle No More SF Bay Organizer, Youth Director Earth Guardians Bay Area
  • Alison Ehara Brown, Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty Signer, Idle No More SF Bay Founder
  • Daniel Adel, California Student Sustainability Coalition Online Communications Coordinator
  • Rich Lohman, Healing Walk Volunteer
  • Patricia St. Onge, Idle No More SF Bay Nafsi Ya Jamii
  • Donovin Keomanee, Healing Walk Monitor/Volunteer


  • Host: R.J. Lozada
  • Producers: Anita Johnson, Marie Choi, Monica Lopez, R.J. Lozada
  • Executive Director: Lisa Rudman
  • Audience Engagement Director/Web Editor: Sabine Blaizin
  • Development Associate: Vera Tykulsker

Transcript generated from Pop Up Archive, an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.

[RJL] I’m RJ Lozada and this is making contact.

[RJL] On today’s episode we bring you a special broadcast and present you two Making Contact storytelling fellows, Vincent Medina, and Isabelle Zizi. Both will bring you powerful experiences, speaking as part of a growing cohort of Native American activists and organizers in the bay area–they’re building upon the  traditions and the work of their elders, for themselves and for the next generations.

The Ohlone are the first peoples of the Bay Area, covering areas from the coast line along San Francisco to as far inland as Salinas Valley. After near eradication, the Ohlone were all but completely eradicated and enveloped within the colonizers world — their languages and cultures criminalized and swallowed up. It would be several generations before the Ohlone would be able to regenerate, and reclaim fractions of land rightfully theirs.

Making Contact Community Storytelling fellow, Vincent Medina is part of the current generation of Ohlone that are deeply invested in language and cultural revitalization. Whether paying homage at Coyote Hills Park in Fremont, or teaching Chochenyo language courses at Mission San Jose, Vincent finds firm footing in his deep running roots.

[Vincent Medina VM] (In Chochenyo) We are quiches who wrote their mock water talk wrote the pion he can actually pay and he can actually meet the PI on molek a loonie IMHO too. He talks Sheck my teen I to CA. I KIICK name Mark where trush pay and he cannot share. You are watching. My quitter’s squeak.

Our language almost vanish from the earth.

In 1921 in the midst of this tragedy an elderly woman living in the deep brown canyons of sand all named Angela Doulos colos proclaim with defiance Konna Aqua attack you talked on when they as for me I am not going to stop speaking. She. Along with the also aging Jose Guzman worked frantically to record speak and protect church on. The language spoken in the E-Space since time immemorial which was on the brink of death. The precipice of never being used again. What a world that must have been. I can only imagine. My heart begins to ache at the thought. These people. My elders my heroes.

They made a conscious decision to keep speaking church and to fight against time as though in defiance of gravity. They knew they were the only ones who could protect our language and they launched ducked and leaped over the hurdles of reality in order to keep the flicker of light from moving into ashes and darkness.

Angela and Jose. They weren’t going out without a fight.

Yellow parchment papers became full of frantic scribbles an outpour of heartbreak. Family histories gossip lore loss and victories and stories that stretch back to the very beginning of time. The scribe was such an intimacy and an immediacy that they seemed to have happened yesterday. Tales of a time when giants roamed the East Bay. When coyote left his footprints embedded in the earth. When hills and spirits had emotions and proper names. When bodies of stone were defeated in the underworld and when songs were sung just about Mount Diablo and Mission Peak.

Don’t forget this. I picture them telling us. Don’t give up on this.

[VM] All right. Now let’s read these words together OK so we can get the pronunciation.

[GM] <In Chochenyo>

[VM] To try it with your tongue a little bit further back in your prayer. True true.

[GM] <In Chochenyo>

My name is Gabriel Medina and I’m 13 years old. I’ve been around two years. It’s like a secret language. I was in fourth grade and we were doing the mission project and we never brought American Indians in. I told my teacher that I was Native American and she said that I wasn’t because I didn’t look Native American and she knows what Native American looks like. Or her opinion I know that I am.

[VM] I realize just the sounds of the language were something incredible on its own. Being able to connect those old sounds the places here in the East Bay could hear the land and the language itself you know wherever you’re out here in this place you can often just see like those drops and rises and falls that make the Bay Area what it is and that’s so embedded within our language. It helped me connect in a way to my ancestors that that just the words strictly on their own might not there’s context that’s there it tells people who are related to the conditions that people had to go through. It tells the experiences that people have and how people consistently survived and adapted to the changes around them and kept intact what they could in order to keep their culture strong and alive. And when I. Would read that and connect that with the words connected with living in my land and the fact that Gabriel and myself.

You know two brothers we both were born in our traditional village were meant to be in our homeland were meant to be speaking this language.

Our elders there there are guiding forces in many ways they are linked to the old world that our ancestors lived in.

[VM]  When you when you go to the language because I know you’ve been to one of the language classes that we had here. When you when you when you used some of the church in your words how does how does it make you feel when you use them.

[Aunt Dotty, AD] I’m not saying them properly.

[VM] You know what. Surprisingly I talked about this with one of the professors that I have at UC Berkeley that I work with. And out of everybody when when we were having that night class that first time you got the pronunciation the closest to the way that I hear the old people say it. And in the recordings

[AD] Oh really.

[VM] And it was because I think that you probably heard stuff growing up. So somewhere back there in your mind it’s still there but when you would get the sounds there’s a sounds I can get.

When I when I pronounce well and Dotty in many ways she’s like the matriarch of our family. Because you heard it growing up.

[AD] Here so you know someone stole some words and some words you can’t get them out. Yeah as hard as you try.

[VM] She’s a tough lady. She’s a strong lady and she’s always She’s always been somebody who’s carried culture forward for us. She’s always been throughout her life found ways to protect her identity and she’s always found ways to make sure that those who are around are proud of the Lowney in the 1960s A.R.T. was the one who led our seminary being saved your mission San Jose the only the only person that I ever heard speak that language would be Uncle Dario. And there were some other family members that came from Livermore that also spoke the language. But to say that I ever remembered what they said. You know I couldn’t repeat it because I don’t know the language. She listened to the old timers who lived on the old ranch rancheria and listened to them speak the language listen to them tell the old stories that stretch back to the very beginning proud of. Yourself. Take another you’ve taken this upon yourself to be able to teach the younger people the language. Which something that we never had you know only bits and pieces on them but nothing that ever stepped to us because we were too busy. With other thoughts.

I understand Cathy she she is a really unique person because she’s able to to know a whole lot about the old ways.

And Cathy also has a lot of insight about my great grandmother Mary Archer Litta who for a brief time while she was in college she lived with her in the 1970s when I spoke with Cathy. Cathy was telling me that she could remember hearing our language spoken all the way into the 1950s. She can remember her mother Maggie peanuts and my great grandmother standing around and she could hear the language. I just remember thinking to myself how much pride and how much and how excited I felt to know that my great grandmother somebody who held me in her arms. That she might have been a speaker of our language in her younger years.  

[VM] OK. So. So basically I just wanted to ask you a few questions just about about Nana what she was like. With. In your in your younger years when you were visiting and when you live with her. One thing I always wondered about especially with nana because I know that she spent time in the orphanage at the mission and I know that her mom Victoria Marine passed away. She was very young over in snow and and the stories that I hear from my grandma about this was that things got really hard when she entered the orphanage where she was separated from her sister Flora. And there was obviously some some really rough things that happened to you but I wondered explicitly because when I was a kid Nana was always so proud to be Indian she was always so proud about who she was and she would always tell us you know.

[C] But now we’re alone. And I wonder how just how how she was able to carry on all of that pride in her culture even with the things that she had to go through that were painful and she was a lot like the both of we were in Meggie Juarez. And Peter where is this house.

They were living with them. Evidently they must’ve missed my great great aunt. I guess she would be my great great Aunt Maggie peanuts. I get what they call the peanut butter made world. She’s the one that took them actually out of the orphanage and I guess because your nana was chosen and not the rest that may have caused you know the conflict or the bad feelings you know but they used get called to for the meat of the meat.

  1. And when every year when they would get call she would make the calls to everybody.

And we were one of the families we’d all get together we go to a lonely park and we would all celebrate my love that your nana made all of his regalia all of his clothes the same.

My sister is godmother. Oh yeah.

[VM]So that’s so.

[C] And your nana would make things to my sister because that was her grab her son who’s with us so.

[VM] So that’s that’s the era Yeah. Can. You. Keep in mind there were birds that were very loud in the background.

And I remember when I would go to see my great grandmother as a child there would be birds that would always be everywhere in her house and the same birds who were were in Cathy’s as well glorious fighters stubborn ancestors people of defiance people of wisdom gravity breakers.

Today as a result of your refusal to surrender our language we can speak the words yet again because of those scribbles on parchment paper.

Our land here is church Aniela’s second time it’s been inside of us all along. The words they caress us like a loving grandmothers embrace. They comfort us like an old familiar song and they bring us dignity. By connecting us to our ancestors. They connect us to the East Bay.

Right. Our home my parents our land the place that we love.

The place that those before us fought so hard to stay in the place that we originate from my elders my heroes.  You saved our language from ever being forgotten and we will not relinquish your channel for it thrives in the footsteps of giants which are true. He cannot Krakatau Vince Medina I Inus he making contact.

[RJL] In a moment we’ll look at how the bio-cultural diversity of an area depends on people connecting with their language and traditions,  along with protecting their land, air and water.

But first let me explain that Making Contact’s Community Storytelling Fellowships are a labor of love. Our producers work hard — hand in hand with the fellows. And the learning goes both ways:—the  producers share their skills and the fellows share their wisdom and life experiences.

The fellowships are a 10-week paid immersion in the designing, recording and writing of a radio piece. Fellows we’ve worked with range from a man who returned home after 31 years in prison, to a woman working-through the domestic abuse she suffered, by reporting on the activism of younger women against violence..

You can listen to all of our fellows pieces on our website at Our work at Making Contact is listener supported — no corporate or government funding. We rely on you so  please go to our website to see ways to help us continue the fellowships.

[IZ] It’s honestly bringing back some memories. It might be triggering for me when I. Really explain how the day went. It was a really beautiful day. There was no clouds the sky was just blue. The sun was up and shining and. It was beautiful enough for. All of my family and a bunch of my neighbors to be outside.

Just enjoying company. All of a sudden I had notice just this instance of. Darkness. And. I had asked my mom. I was a.

What is that. And so she turned around really quickly. And she did this really big gas. You know we all just didn’t know what happened. And so. She immediately said. That Chevron that just exploded. At that moment.

None of us knew what to do. You know we just see this big roar of a black cloud. Just shoot straight up straight up in the air. You know look multiple big clouds following it. And you know we heard these booms these really loud booms. I think it was like. Two or three of them. And.

We immediately started to tell everyone get inside.

6:35 there was an explosion of some type at the Chevron refinery in Richmond. We’ve had and you know just watching it from my windows just see the clouds just continue to cover the sky in the flares just shoot up.

And now people like me who remember that day have to fear every day. Am I going to see another explosion. In my lifetime. I really hope not.

You see a group near the Chevron Richmond refinery in California in 2012 Obreht pipe at the refinery caused the fire sending black smoke into the surrounding areas. It took more than four hours to bring the fire under control. Richmond lies in what’s known as the refinery corridor. There are five petroleum refineries along the north coast of the East Bay less than 30 miles from each other. So those of us who live along this oil artery are all too familiar with the trends of having a petroleum processing plant as our neighbor.

[D] That was the biggest flare I have ever witnessed.

[IZ] That’s Daniel adown. He lives in Benicia. That’s in the refinery quarter to. Flaring is a process that typically burns off excess hydrocarbon gases or pressure. It was a really windy day and most of the most of.

The smoke coming out of the refinery was blowing northeast away from where most of the residents live. So we were very lucky. On May 5th 2017 the Valero refinery in banishes started flaring at about 6:40 a.m..

The EPA found toxic gases such as hydrogen sulfide peaking at more than 10 times than normal for the area. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has launched an investigation and the Valero refinery was issued for notices of violations. I met Daniel a few years ago at the refinery Huling wants these walks led by Native Americans in prayer from one refinery town to the next.

As we look around our communities many of us live in Richmond another refinery town some we really started taking a bigger look at what it looked like what it felt like what the health impacts were and the emotional impacts were of living in refinery towns along the refinery corridor.

Allison Nihar Brown is a member of the Mohawk and Seneca tribes. She’s a longtime Richmond resident who also helped envision the refinery healing walks in 2014.

Coming together both in terms of our indigenous values around the land on the water and the air and all of life being sacred and also the concrete experiences of having refineries that would explode and put out flares in emission mission. It’s been a long period of time for all of us I think of really struggling to have independent towns in the midst of a gigantic worldwide corporate industry that wields tremendous power and has tremendous resources to get their way.

Inspired by the tar sands healing walk in Canada indigenous grandmothers started their refinery healing walks to walk for clean air water and soil. That’s what inspired me to get involved. Now four years down the road our mission to wholeheartedly connect with the community members who live in or around refinery towns like mine is stronger than ever. Something Daniel and Allison relate to too.

[IZ] Growing up here I never really felt I felt very isolated. Living over here and. Even though we have our own share of problems like I never the refinery corridor he walks. They were really the first. It was the first time that I. That I. Felt you know people were bringing awareness to what was going on in my life and my immediate surroundings. And. It’s just really inspiring to be talking with folks you know walking folks who are walking and commitment to the sacred system all of life on our planet.

It feels really different now it feels like we have a whole movement of people that are united around wanting a healthy vibrant future for our communities and for our children and where we can see that what we’re facing whether we’re in Pittsburgh or for a day or Bindi’s show or or Richmond that what we’re up against is very similar. And so I think there is a sense of community and community between cities and showing up at each other’s struggles. And City Hall meetings or things like that that just feels different. I feel I think we none of us feel as isolated as we did before. And we feel more powerful. Take us away.

To the refinery healing walks.

Connect the dots between five refinery towns Pittsburgh Martinez Venecia rodeo and Richmond. Every walk starts with the water ceremony where water from different watersheds are gathered together in a pail. Then grandmothers from idle no more.

As if they lead everyone in prayer.

We had just walk past the north gate of the entrance to a shell. We’re doing it here and right is. I am. Friends. With. Those who are carrying. Bags. And. Water that we could get from different waters it’s enough to hear. The prayer folk while we’re here. One is in contemplation. And. In. Song. As you can. Drown. In the rattles. To keep a strong presence. We’re currently walking over the bridge and there are many walkers who are holding signs that read for clean air.

Clean energy. Water is like. There’s about 100 people here.

Bikers and drivers passing by. Also shout and honk in support as we walk along.

[IZ] The walk continues on for a few more miles before we reach our final destination in Benicia. A group of smiling faces greet us hi failing us says we farm our last circle. Then we enter day by creating envisioning squares. My name is Rich and you know we’ve set these squares up squares of fabrics so that as people have come off of the walk. And having their mind ideas about.

A world that could be without fossil fuels with new kinds of energy wind solar much more understanding and justice and all the other wonderful things that we stand for in this walk that they can express this. So much to see form in these squares.

[Do] My name is Donovan. My vision for this walk is. Empowering. The youth and the people around me. The younger audience like the kids here. Being part of this movement where. You know they’re going to grow up and remember that they did something positive not only for just for climate but. For themselves and feel like they’ve been a part of history.

Saigo Patricia I know you could appreciate it too. Yes. Patricia Cena is my name. Well my vision is that we re-imagine the world in the way that it was originally designed to be and that our relationships reflect that and our what our life ways respond to that inclination. We have the map we have the instructions. So my vision is that we use and follow like we’re I can. Hear the voice of my gay friends saying.

I envision a world where we are balanced with Mother Earth and use her natural resources rather than abuse or over use them. I envision life to be free of pollution imperialism and destruction of humankind and that we work together to build the solid platform of sustainable living. These intentions and drawings will be sewn together and turned into a beautiful quilt that will be displayed in community centers libraries and more. The hope is others will be inspired by them too.

From Rich from California who chin Ohlone territory, I’m Izabella Zizi Northern Cheyenne Erika and Muskogee creek. I’m making contact community storytelling fellow.

[RJL] And that’s it from Making Contact.

If you’re interested in learning more about the work both Vincent and Isabella are doing, or want to listen to other works produced by Making Contact storytelling fellows you can visit us at

Lisa Rudman is our executive director, Marie Choi, Anita Johnson, Monica Lopez are our producers, Sabine Blaizin is our Audience Engagement Manager, and Vera Thykulsker is our development associate.

And, I’m RJ Lozada.  Thanks for listening to Making Contact.


Author: Radio Project

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