What Does “Save Shellmounds, Not Parking Lots” Even Mean?

It’s not just a salty catch-phrase. It’s a plea for reason, and a plan to move forward in realizing the protection and return of sacred Native American sites in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The only way to protect sacred sites, like Shellmounds, and Petroglyphs, is by actively protecting them.

This means:

  • Recognizing the difference between corporations who claim to be tribal governments, and actual Tribal Governments.
  • Empowering Tribal Law Enforcement with the Authority to Arrest and Prosecute Non-Indians Within Their Sovereign Borders
  • Adding Sacred Sites not protected by Tribal Law Enforcement to the “Beat” of the Law Enforcement branches of the Bureau of Land Management, USDA Dept. of Forestry, Cal. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, etc.
  • Utilizing modern surveillance technology to serve as witness to crimes like vandalism, theft, and dumping.

By concealing these heritage sites, we begin to make them taboo. They become places we don’t go to anymore. Places that we could lose our connection to, ironically, because we wanted to protect them.

But these are the very places and things we should be proud of. A physical, tangible link between us, our ancestors, and the land that we’re from. This is the place our hearts sing songs for, no matter how far away we are.

By hiding these places, and never mentioning them, we are consigning our sacred sites to the erasure that Spanish colonists, and the American government, have fought so hard to achieve.

Hiding important pieces of a culture that we’re supposed to be trying to “save”, “revive”, and “re-awaken” is so contradictory that I’m a little beyond words.

I’m talking about spiritual sites where our Gods supposedly touched The Earth….

Physical things like Coyote’s footprint. Like the drawings of my ancestors, on the cave walls where they lived, and visited, three-thousand years ago. Ancient maps, signs, calendars, and star charts, put together. Information transmitted in a way which makes language superfluous.

Places where you can still hear the songs. And feel the spirit all around you.

All of these places tie us to here.

This is our heritage.

The only way to prevent our sacred, and cultural sites, from being destroyed, or vandalized, or disturbed, is by recognizing the site, itself, and declaring it the cultural property of your tribe.

There is no room for approximation. The location must be explicit.

You can’t hit the property owners with a vague, “this is our ancestral land and we want easement to practice our traditions on it,” and expect too much traction.

You have to say something like:


This is our ancestral land. We have a couple of shellmounds on your property here, and here; and a destroyed mound that you built something on top of, here. We’d like to take a look at them, visit them, and discuss a possible easement to visit them once or twice a year.”

This works. I’m actually very serious. And, yes, it is that easy to start the conversation.

In the end. The push-back against the idea of Land Back, and easement, is really going to come from private property owners. Public Lands in parks, and land banks, are so much easier to break up and award. Privately owned land is harder to negotiate for. Owners don’t often walk away without a fight.

Many of the Native American Cultural Assets in California exist in places that are being exploited for their natural resources, like oil refineries, and quarries. There is no way any of these companies would leave, or give up their land without a fight. These industries are worth billions of dollars, and provide thousands of jobs. There would be huge ramifications for the communities these industries employ, if they did leave.

[None of this is meant to detract from the fact that Oil Refineries and Rock Quarries should stop polluting, and get tf off our land.]

It’s more than likely that oil companies would consider paying the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, or the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area for their encroachment onto Unceded Tribal Territory. (Hopefully no one settles for the symbolism of flying a tribal flag.)

But private property owners. Owners of B&B’s, AirBnB’s, Ranches, even some corporate vineyards. These are the people we should try to approach. And just ask for access, first. An opportunity to just look, and document these places as they stand today.

Naturally, in the course of your communication, the property owners will receive information about your tribe, and learn about the importance of this site to your people. But it takes a certain, sterilized, administrative approach to begin.

Many shellmound sites that are under private ownership butt up against public lands. So it actually wouldn’t be too hard to work something out with the owners and the park systems. No one’s really tried to do this, yet. And we’re running out of time.

I see that people are more willing to learn about, and help preserve Native American History than we may give them credit for. This is reflected by the great interest in corporations like the Sogorea Te Land Trust.

But is this problem really going to be solved with fresh strawberries?

Would a private land trust even be necessary if the true, legitimate Ohlone Tribe were re-recognized by the federal government?

Charlene Nijmeh, the Tribal Chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area recently wrote a special article for the Daily California, outlining some of the ways which the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe was removed from the Federally Recognized Tribes list and denied land in the San Francisco Bay Area. Forcing Muwekma Tribal Members and Descendants to watch as much of the physical history of their people was erased, over the next 90 years, by the development of such places as Silicon Valley. With no justice, or means for recompense.

In her article, the Chairwoman issued a Call To Action, to support the Federal Re-Recognition of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area.

But, the first step is to distinguish between the real East Bay Ohlone Tribal Government, and the Corporations claiming to be them.

In the fight for recognition, imposter organizations will only confuse the issue more. Corporations soliciting for your donations, and for property, and other tangible things, with the stated goal to return land to Ohlone People should be directly associated with the real Ohlone Tribe in the East Bay: the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe has been around for hundreds of years. Muwekma has documented their existence and family trees, exhaustively, back to the 1800’s. The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area is the true East Bay Ohlone Tribe, which was recognized by the federal government until 1934.

Here is a break-down of the East Bay Ohlone Organizations you may have heard of, and their relationship to the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Legitimate Ohlone Tribal Goverenments of the East Bay, and Their Affiliates:

  • Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area
    Sovereign Native American Tribal Government, with documented ties to their homeland in The Bay, going back to at least the 1800’s. Mountains of historical and genealogical research. Once a Federally Recognized Tribe; and mentioned in Treaty.
  • Ohlone Indian Tribe, Inc.
    Created in the 1970’s, to accept title, in lieu of Federal Recognition of the tribe, to the Ohlone Indian Cemetery, in Fremont, California. The same cemetery that Dolores Galvan (a famous Muwekma Ohlone leader) saved from being destroyed by the proposed construction of the 680 freeway.

Neither the Muwekma Tribal Government, nor the Ohlone Indian Tribe, INC. solicit for donations.

Corporations Claiming to be Tribal Governments, and Their Affiliates:

By diverting funding and attention from Muwekma’s struggle for Federal Recognition, you are contributing to the erasure of Ohlone History, and the erosion of Ohlone Identity.

Saving Shellmounds (Not Parking Lots) means supporting True Tribal Governments in their struggles for Recognition, and Return of Land and Ancestors.

It’s time to stop giving money to an organization you never researched, just because it sounds good.
The Muwekema Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area is a real Tribal Government; led by Charlene Nijmeh, and Monica Arellano, Chairwoman, and Vice-Chairwoman; who really are working on the true Rematriation of Ohlone Land.

Support Muwekma’s fight for Federal Re-Recognition!

Call your representatives in Congress and in the Senate, and demand the restoration of Muwekma’s status through a Congressional act.

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