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In this episode, we take a deep dive into Indigenous resistance against extractivism and the forces behind climate change. We’ll look at an underreported story in California about the Amah Mutsun Ohlone’s fight to save their most sacred site — a place called Juristac. Contributors Robert Raymond and Della Duncan explore the horrific injustices wrought upon California Indians since the time of the Spanish Missions up to the present and focus on how the Amah Mutsun are working to regenerate their culture, language, and land.
Special thanks to The Satterberg Foundation & Upstream Podcast.
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Valentin Lopez, Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band Eleanor Castro, Amah Mutsun Elder Episode Producers: Della Duncan and Robert Raymond The Making Contact Team
Valentin Lopez, Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band
Eleanor Castro, Amah Mutsun Elder
Episode Producers: Della Duncan and Robert Raymond
The Making Contact Team
Chris Zabriski, BRONCHO, Xlyo Ziko, Inaequalis, Meydan
Monica Lopez: This week on Making Contact…
Since first contact, untold numbers of Indigenous sacred sites have been desecrated and destroyed.
In this episode, we’re taking a deep dive into Indigenous resistance against extractivism and the forces behind climate change. We’ll look at an underreported story right here in our home state of California: the story of the Amah Mutsun Ohlone’s fight to save their most sacred site — a place called Juristac. Making Contact contributors Robert Raymond and Della Duncan explore the horrific injustices wrought upon California Indians since the time of the Spanish Missions up to the present, and focus on how the Amah Mutsun are working to regenerate their culture, language, and land.
[Chumash Grandmother’s Song]
Kanyon “Coyote Woman” Sayers-Roods: So what land are you on? Mutsun! We are on Mutsun Ohlone territory. My name is Kanyon Coyote Woman Sayers-Roods. So welcome to Mutsun Ohlone territory, thank you for being in community with us…
Della Duncan: It’s October 10th, Indigenous People’s Day and we’re gathered in a park plaza for a Rain Dance ceremony at Mission San Juan Bautista. The ceremony is being hosted by the Indian Canyon Mutsun and Amah Mutsun tribal bands of the Costanoan Ohlone — the native people of what’s also known as California’s Bay Area. This gathering is intended as a collective prayer for rain — something that California doesn’t see too much of these days, being in the midst of an unprecedented, multi-year drought. But the ceremony is also meant to bring together community in defense of an ongoing battle that the Mutsun peoples have been part of, a battle to save their people’s most sacred site, a place called Juristac…
Valentin Lopez: Today’s walk was historic. When have the people of this area ever stood and walked with the Indigenous people of this area who have been here for this long…
Della Duncan: It’s two years before the rain ceremony at San Juan Bautista, and we’re at Juristac, or Sargent Ranch as it’s known to the colonial majority, just a few miles south of Gilroy, in Santa Clara County. The Amah Mutsun are holding another ceremony here, one which marks the end of a five mile march — a kind of pilgrimage — which began earlier in the day at Mission San Juan Bautista. For thousands of years, long before European settlers ever arrived in California, the Amah Mutsun held sacred gatherings on this site, a place which is now under threat of being destroyed and turned into a 320-acre open pit mine, where sand and gravel will be extracted and turned into concrete used to fuel the never-ending developments of strip malls and suburban sprawl that now defines this region’s landscape. This is why hundreds of people are gathered here, at the foot of the lowland slopes and iconic golden hills that roll through this part of California — to take a stand.
Valentin Lopez: What you witnessed is many of our members coming together with the public…
Valentin Lopez My name’s Valentin Lopez and I’m the chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. Our tribe is comprised of the descendants of the Indigenous peoples that were taken to Mission San Juan Batista and Santa Cruz.
Sergeant Ranch was known in our times as Juristac, and Juristac translates to “The place of the big head.” And our big head dances were our most important and most sacred dances of our tribe. And so this right here is actually a sacred site. And the developers just plan on tearing down that site and just monetizing our most sacred site. We are fighting to stop that.
Our tribe has been here for ten, twelve, fifteen thousand years. And if you think of that in terms of generations, that’s eight hundred, nine hundred, perhaps a thousand generations or more that our people have been here. And we’ve been holding ceremony on these lands here for a very long time. Because this is a sacred site, we had four villages in this vicinity. And those four villages, their job was to ensure that those mountains maintained their sacredness and keep the lands prepared for sacred ceremony.
[Music: Chris Zabriskie – Is That You or Are You You]
Della Duncan: For the past hundred and fifty years or so, Juristac has changed hands several times. During California’s Mexican period, the land was granted to two German brothers by the Governor of Alta California, José Castro. Later, it was purchased by a man named J.P. Sargent, who turned it into a 1,200-head cattle ranch. The land remained in the Sargent family until more recently, when a series of unsuccessful development projects — from casinos to golf courses — landed the property in bankruptcy court. It was then that the current owner, the Debt Acquisition Company of America — an investor group that specializes in purchasing and profiting off of foreclosed properties — bought the land at auction. It wasn’t long after that they announced their plans to extract gravel and sand from mountains on the property, essentially turning them into giant pits in the ground.
Approval of the Sargent Quarry Project is contingent on a number of factors that are still pending. There’s currently an ethnographic study taking place, along with an environmental impact report being compiled by the County of Santa Clara’s Department of Planning and Development, which has been delayed now for months. Its contents will have a significant impact on whether or not the quarry project goes through. But for now, the Amah Mutsun will have to continue to wait for this sluggish, bureaucratic timeline to unfold — a mundane and technocratic process that holds the fate of one of their most sacred sites in limbo.
Eleanor Castro: Juristac is just a part of what has happened to our people.
Della Duncan: Eleanor Castro is an Amah Mutsun elder.
Eleanor Castro: They want to destroy our land, but, the more I see it, they want to destroy everything for money. Everything’s about money.
[Music: Chris Zabriskie – The Temperature of the Air On the Bow of the Kaleentan]
Della Duncan: The quarry would also have ecological impacts. According to Project Juristac’s website, the Sargent Quarry project would eliminate approximately 248 acres of grassland habitat for the California tiger salamander and the California red-legged frog — both federally-listed threatened species — while also degrading their breeding habitat in the ponds adjacent to quarry operations. The loss of grasslands would also impact the American badger and birds of prey that forage in the area such as the Golden Eagle, the Northern Harrier, the Prairie Falcon and the Burrowing Owl.
Eleanor Castro: It’s just so sad that people want to destroy everything, and for money. For not realizing that everything is sacred. The plants, the animals, the people, the insects — are all part of each other and are related to each other.
Della Duncan: If the quarry project goes through, it would be just one in a long line of many injustices wrought upon the California Indians by the colonial majority.
Valentin Lopez: The destruction and domination of California Indians never ended, it just evolved. And evolved today to what we see, and a lot of that is the destruction of our cultural and sacred sites. Mount Umunhum is a perfect example for that. Mount Umunhum is a place of our creation. And our creation story tells us that it was there that Creator made all lifeforms that we see today: the four legged, the birds, the fish, the plants, etc. It’s a sacred place to us and it’s a place where our people would go to pray. Whenever we pray we go to mountaintops so that we’re closer to Creator. But our most serious and most important prayers always happened at Mt Umunhum, because that’s when we were closest to Creator. Our people did that for thousands and thousands of years.
[Music: Chris Zabriskie – John Stockton Slow Drag]
Della Duncan: Mount Umunhum is one of the tallest peaks in the Santa Cruz Mountain range. It’s got a large, white structure on top of it, which, from the valley below, looks like a weird white cube. Mount Umunhum towers over Silicon Valley, and the box that sits on top of it is actually a radar tower that was part of the Almaden Air Force Station that operated there from 1958 to 1980. They actually leveled off the top of the mountain — the mountain which is the center of the Amah Mutsun’s cosmology — to build this military base, which was then abandoned by the military after the cold war ended and closed to the public because of the hazardous materials like asbestos, black mold and lead paint which was used on structures like the radar tower.
The summit of Mount Umunhum was cordoned off for decades after that, but in the last couple of years, the area was finally cleaned up and turned into a public park. Although there are some plaques there now which provide information on the Ohlone, the radar tower is still standing, a symbol of colonialism, of militarization — of the genocide of Indigenous peoples.
Valentin Lopez: Mount Umunhum, the place of our creation story, was just desecrated. That radar tower was there for — operated for less than twenty five years, I believe. Our history there goes back twelve, fourteen, fifteen thousand years. And yet, the county of Santa Clara recognized Mount Umunhum as an important county heritage site for the military. Totally ignored our twelve, fourteen, fifteen thousand year history there — completely ignored it. It wasn’t important, it wasn’t valued. Twenty-five years of military presence is more important than fifteen thousand years of Native American presence. That’s what I mean when I said that we’ve been ignored, forgotten, have no value, and our history means nothing, means nothing.
Della Duncan: We reached out to the Umunhum Conservancy — the nonprofit behind the push to preserve the radar tower on Mount Umunhum — as well as to the Debt Acquisition Company of America — the company behind Sargent Quarry — but they both declined our requests for interviews.
Host Copy (Break)
Monica Lopez: You’re listening to Juristac and the Amah Mutsun: Indigenous Resistance and Regeneration on Making Contact. Making Contact is offered for free to radio stations across the country and around world. Check out this and other episodes on our web site at radio project dot org and wherever you get your podcasts.
We’ll be right back…
Della Duncan: The bells are ringing here at Mission San Juan Bautista — where we began our episode. The Amah Mutsun have a long history with this place, one that goes back to the late 18th century and which is marked by a brutality that’s difficult to imagine. The first hundred years or so of the California Indians’ contact with Europeans is known as the Mission period, which is when the Spanish began their colonization of California. In the process, tens of thousands of California Indians were dispossessed of their land, moved onto the Missions, and forcibly stripped of their religions, cultures, and languages. It’s estimated that more than 37,000 California Indians died at the missions from starvation, overwork, and epidemics.
This dispossession of Native land was all sanctioned through the infamous Doctrine of Discovery, an early law put forth by European, Christian governments claiming they had a right to possess any non-Christian territory through act of “discovery”.
Valentin Lopez: Whenever the colonizers came, the Spanish in the Mission period, the Mexican period, and the early California-American period, they had no respect, no regard, no value for Native American culture, spirituality, environments, traditions, customs, ways, etc. It did not matter to them our history or our past. They just came in to take the land, take the resources. And here in California, actually, the governor of California, in the very first State of the Union, said that there will be a war of extermination against the California Indians. That is to be expected. And then one of the very first treasury bonds passed by the state of California was to pay for the extermination of California Indians. And with that money, they paid bounties and they paid military excursions up into the mountains, primarily, to hunt down the Indians and to kill them.
[Music: Chris Zabriskie – I am a Man Who Will Fight for Your Honor]
Della Duncan: The violence inflicted on the California Indians during the early California-American period was horrific. Men, women, and children were often hacked to death with hatchets, bounties were paid for not just scalps — but for entire heads. Vagrancy laws were passed during this period which allowed the services of “unemployed” Indians to be auctioned off to white settlers. Native children were often kidnapped and sold as apprentices. Not surprisingly, it’s estimated that there was an 80 percent loss of the California Indian population in just 20 years.
Eleanor Castro: So, I know my history of my people now, that when the colonizers came here, they found natives here, and we were less than human. And it continues today, we’re nothing to the government, really. But we are human. And we’re still here after all these years, after the missions closed and they tried to destroy us. And our tribe was spread, we have no land left, we have no language left, we have no anything left. So we did the best we could, but yet they continue to try to enslave us.
Valentin Lopez: There’s been no regard for our spirituality and our culture. The destruction and domination of Native Americans never ended. It just evolved and it evolved to what we see today, where the destruction of our sacred sites, our cultural sites, our important sensitive cultural sites are being destroyed. And that’s what’s happening at Juristac. Juristac is being destroyed today and it’s being sponsored by county government. If this happens it will show that the perpetrators who destroyed our territories, who committed genocide, collected bounties, kidnapped and murdered — those times times still continue. Those were the perpetrators. Today, the perpetrators are the cities and the counties and the state of California and the federal government who allow the destruction and domination of Native American culture, Native American spirituality, the destruction of our environment.
[Music: Chris Zabriskie – I am a Man Who Will Fight for Your Honor]
Valentin Lopez: The quest for money and profit and greed drives people to ignore and dehumanize and to look to wipe out and destroy people just so they can continue their profits. That happens for all tribes, all tribes.
[Fade out music]
Valentin Lopez: The way you say father is [Amah Mutsun word], the way you say Godparent is [Amah Mutsun word], the way you say Grandson is [Amah Mutsun word], mother is [Amah Mutsun word], and son is [Amah Mutsun word]…
Valentin Lopez: Where we are today as we are at Cascade Ranch, which is about 25 miles north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1.
Della Duncan: Cascade Ranch is inhabited by members of the Amah Mutsun tribal band as part of a land stewardship project. When Val and Eleanor gave us a tour of the ranch, something that stood out were post-it notes that we saw peppered all over, on objects like doorknobs and the fridge — with words from the Mutsun language written on them. It’s a trick they’re using to help themselves — and other Amah Mutsun members staying at the house — to relearn their ancestral language.
Robert Raymond: …how like, proficient would you say you’ve both gotten at this point — or, Val, your pointing to Val…
Val Lopez: There’s really — there’s no fluent speaker. We have one person now who may be a fluent speaker, who’s close, you know, but we went almost 90 years without a fluent speaker. And when there’s no fluent speaker it’s hard to learn, you know? We have the words on paper but how do you do that? So we’ve worked with linguists from UC Berkeley, University of Arizona, UC Davis, and other universities as well, and we’ve put a dictionary together — took us nineteen and a half years to put a dictionary together. And we have a decent grammar book — a very good grammar book actually. So we’re working on language and it won’t be long before we have fluent speakers brought back to our tribe.
Della Duncan: The Amah Mutsun land stewards are part of the Amah Mutsun Land Trust. While defending attacks against their sacred cultural and spiritual sites like Juristac and Mount Umunhum, the Amah Mutsun are also focused on cultural and ecological restoration efforts, taking proactive steps towards building a sense of tribal identity through teaching their history, practicing their culture, and reconnecting with the land. Programs range from cultural relearning efforts, such as storytelling and ceremonial practices — to conservation and environmental education initiatives — including archeological and fire research.
Valentin Lopez: Well, Amah Mutsun Land Trust was established in 2012 and the goals of our land trust are to preserve and protect our cultural and spiritual and sensitive sites. It is to do research to help us restore the Indigenous knowledge of our ancestors. There’s an education component to allow us to teach our tribal members of our traditional knowledge of tending, caring for the plants and the environment. And then the fourth component is to have an actual stewardship core where we have our tribal members out on the lands actually working to help us restore the landscapes back to the conditions that were before first contact.
Della Duncan: There are many ways that returning land stewardship to Indigenous communities is helping to restore ecosystems. For example, The Amah Mutsun Land Trust is researching and restoring traditional Native burning methods, which could help the state reduce the risk of extreme wildfires. For thousands of years, the Amah Mutsun have been lighting prescribed, methodical fires across the Central California Coast. These practices were banned by the Spanish colonizers starting in the Mission period, and since then, California’s wildfires have been intensifying. 2020’s CZU Lightning Complex fire, for example, was one of the most destructive fires in state history as well as the largest fire in recorded history for the Santa Cruz Mountains — it almost burned down Cascade Ranch. Native stewards are currently working on regularly engaging in prescribed burns — a practice which has multiple benefits, from promoting native wildflower biodiversity to mitigating the impacts of climate change.
Valentin Lopez: Now, whenever people talk about climate change, they always talk about loss of biodiversity. And we are actively working here to restore biodiversity. So our land trust is recognized as kind of changing the way that these lands are steward — for stewardship meant, you know, put a fence around it, put a path there and call it stewardship, you know, but our people, they actively managed and and take care of their lands, the plants, the animals, and they develop a lot of techniques and strategies, including the prayers and the ceremonies and the understanding that it’s important, intimate, loving relationship with all living things that we had. And we need to get back to that if we’re going to save Mother Earth.
[Chris Zabriskie – That Kid in the Fourth Grade Who Really Liked the Denver Broncos]
Valentin Lopez: With climate change coming, I ask people to try and understand that the way our people took care of Mother Earth, for all those thousands of years and hundreds of generations, that is what we need to return to to develop a sustainable, healthy environment. If we’re going to survive the issues related to climate change, that effort and those actions must be indigenous-led. It’s our native plants, it’s our traditions of tending, it’s understanding the sacredness of the land, the importance of relationships with all living things, and recognizing that the water and the air and the plants, etc. are all living things. We need to take care of them. It is indigenous ways, and Indigenous understanding of Mother Earth that will allow us to deal with climate change. Also, we ask people to study true history and to understand what has happened in the past and demand that true history be taught — that true history be taught.
[Music: BRONCHO – Class Historian]
Della Duncan: The Amah Mutsun’s fight against Sargent Quarry continues — history is still being written. And tribal members are not alone. Friends of Juristac Santa Cruz County and South Bay Indigenous Solidarity are two groups of Indigenous folks and allies that meet monthly to carry the momentum of the struggle. The next significant event in the quarry’s approval process is the publication of the draft environmental impact report and public comment period. Tribal members are planning actions to coincide with the report’s release this Spring, and are urging members of the public to speak out. There’s not a of general knowledge around this fight in California — so one of the biggest aims of the Amah Mutsun is to continue to raise awareness. You can follow the latest developments at protectjuristac.org, where you can also find a petition to Santa Clara County officials urging them to say no to the quarry, along with a list of resources and ways to get involved.
Host Copy (Outro)
Monica Lopez: The Amah Mutsun’s struggle is part of a much larger struggle of Indigenous peoples, spanning across not just North America — but the entire globe. If you want to take a deeper dive into Indigenous resistance and regeneration, go to our web site at Radioproject dot org for information on how to listen to the full version of Della Duncan and Robert Raymond’s exploration of the struggles of the Wet’suwet’en peoples in Canada, the Inuit in the Arctic, and the Sámi peoples of northern Sweden.
They produce Upstream — an audio series that explores a wide variety of themes pertaining to economics — from a post-capitalist perspective.
Thanks to Chris Zabriskie and BRONCHO for the music in this episode.
The Making Contact team is Jessica Partnow, Anita Johnson, Salima Hamirani, Sabine Blaizin, and I’m Monica Lopez.
Thanks for listening to Making Contact!