The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area

By

Rosemary Cambra (Tribal Chair), Monica V. Arellano (Tribal Vice Chairwoman), Hank Alvarez (Tribal Councilman), Gloria E. Arellano (Tribal Councilwoman), Carolyn M. Sullivan (Tribal Councilwoman), Karl Thompson (Tribal Councilman), Concha Rodriguez (Tribal Councilwoman), and

Alan Leventhal (Tribal Ethnohistorian)

Introduction: Cultural and Geographical Landscape of the Greater Muwekma Territory -

10,000 Years Ago to European Contact in 1769

Over ten thousand years ago, before the waters of the Pacific Ocean passed through the gap now spanned by the Golden Gate Bridge and filled the interior valley-basins, the ancestors of the present-day Muwekma Ohlone along with the neighboring tribal groups had established their homes within this changing landscape. The people comprising these early tribal groups gave birth, hunted, fished, harvested a great diversity of seeds, fruits and vegetables, managed large tracts of land through selected burning, married, grew old and died within the greater San Francisco Bay region. Over these millennia the ancestral Muwekma Ohlone tribal groups along with their neighboring linguistic cousins inter-married and developed complex societies which anthropologists classify as ranked chiefdoms.

Many of the complex aspects of their social, cultural, religious and ceremonial institutions have been traced back through the archaeological record over a period of 4500 years within the greater Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and macro-Bay Area regions, thus culturally and biologically linking this larger contiguous geographic area. Based upon this extensive archaeological record, it appears that sometime around 4000 years ago, these ancestral California tribal cultures developed a system of social ranking (meaning hereditary noble lineages and elites who controlled wealth, production, distribution and power) and there also evolved formal institutionalized religions. This culturally complex system of social distinction and control over resources was reflected in the elaborate mortuary (burial) treatment of the dead as expressed within the larger geographical area. Many of the social elites (nobility) were buried with grave wealth in the form of social and religious markers of distinction. Furthermore, many of these high lineage people during the *Early and Middle Periods (*these are temporal periods developed by archaeologists to distinguish cultural, economic, technological distinctions over time), were buried in extended positions, oriented toward the west, and placed in cemeteries that eventually developed into large earth mounds.

Such was the case within the greater San Francisco Bay region, beginning approximately 4000 years ago, when people were interred in what has become commonly known as the "shellmounds" located near or on the Bayshore. One of these large mound sites, CA-SFr-7, was recorded by Nels Nelson from UC Berkeley in 1908. CA-SFr-7 is also known as the Crocker Mound or Bayshore Mound and is located just south of Islais Creek, near Hunter’s Point. Nels Nelson supervised a major excavation of this mound in 1910 and found it to be up to 3 meters deep. He also recovered 23 burials and associated artifacts. Over the past 100 or so years, these "shellmounds" have been misinterpreted by scholars and other "students of history" as remnant "villages", "kitchen middens", "garbage dumps" and "habitation sites", however archaeological evidence suggests to the contrary, that these mounds formally served as the final resting places for the elite and distinguished members (e.g. fallen warriors) of the many ancestral Muwekma Ohlone tribal societies living around the San Francisco Bay. These final resting-places are in fact, formal cemeteries and mortuary mounds of earth with areas that were also used for cremation. Many of these mortuary mounds contain some shell, ash, bone and charcoal, but evidence suggests that these were by-products of funerals, annual "Cry" or mourning ceremonies, cremation-related activities, or refuse supporting many people attending the funerals and other related ceremonies for over a period of several days.

In 1769, the evolution of these complex Ohlone societies was adversely impacted and became another casualty within the international arena of European colonialism. In that year, the Bourbon Monarchy of the Spanish Empire decided to expand its presence into Alta California. Thus began the first of a series of contacts between the Spanish colonial empire and the aboriginal Costanoan/Ohlone people (whom the Spaniards referred to as Costeños or Coastal People) living within the greater Monterey/San Francisco Bay regions. Although the term Muwekma is used as an identifier for the modern surviving Indian families of the aboriginal people of the greater San Francisco Bay region and whose direct ancestors were missionized into Missions Dolores, San Jose and Santa Clara, Muwekma also means "The People" in the Tamien and Chochenyo Ohlone languages spoken around the San Francisco Bay [note: collectively the Ohlone languages spoken in southern Napa, Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Mateo and San Francisco Counties have been classified as either Northern Costanoan or Muwekma by some anthropologists and linguists].

Late Eighteenth Century Land and Sea Explorations:

Impressions of the Muwekma Ohlone People of the San Francisco Bay

During the early Spanish expeditions from Monterey into the San Francisco Bay region (1769 - 1776), the Spaniards encountered a number of Muwekma Ohlonean tribes and villages (rancherias) along the way. Accounts of these first hand encounters were kept by the priests and the military leaders of the expeditions and they provide important information in our understanding of the nature and complexity of 18th century Ohlone societies and aspects of their world-view. In simplistic terms, it appears in general that the Ohlone attitude towards the presence of strangers entering their territories was divided into two general considerations: strangers were considered as either enemies (and/or other powerful forces that could cause harm), or as distinguished visiting guests. Apparently, during this formative, contact/pre-mission period, the Spaniards were not viewed as enemies by the Ohlone they encountered, but rather in most cases thought of as powerful, non-hostile strangers, whom were invited to their villages and treated as distinguished guests. An example of one such encounter occurred on April 2, 1776, near the Carquinez Straits (North/East Bay), when Father Font documented the following account:

We set out from the little arroyo at seven o'clock in the morning, and passed through a village to which we were invited by some ten Indians, who came to the camp very early in the morning singing. We were welcomed by the Indians of the village, whom I estimated at some four hundred persons, with singular demonstrations of joy, singing, and dancing.

A year earlier in 1775, the first Spanish ship, San Carlos, circum-navigated the San Francisco Bay. On board was Captain Juan Manuel de Ayala, First Sailing Master and Map Maker, Jose de Canizares, and Father Vincente Santa Maria, who after having some initial contact with the Karkin-e (northern Ohlones), decided to go ashore on the south side of the strait, and visit a village located some distance inland. Father Santa Maria left us with the following account:

There was in authority over all of these Indians one whose kingly presence marked his eminence above the rest. Our men made a landing, and when they had done so the Indian chief addressed a long speech to them...

After the feast and while they were having a pleasant time with the Indians, our men saw a large number if heathen approaching, all armed with bows and arrows.

...This fear obliged the sailing master to make known by signs to the Indian chieftain the misgivings they had in the presence of so many armed tribesmen. The themi (chief), understanding what was meant, at once directed the Indians to loosen their bows and put up all of their arrows, and they were prompt to obey. The number of Indians who had gathered together was itself alarming enough. There were more than four hundred of them, and all, or most of them, were of good height and well built.

Also, during this voyage, the San Carlos anchored off several of the islands in the bay, including Alcatraz and Angel Islands. Alcatraz was named Ysla de Alcatrazes (Pelicans) by Captain Ayala (although some believe this is actually Yerba Buena Island). On August 14, 1775, the San Carlos cast her anchor opposite a large island, which they named Santa Maria de los Angels (Angel Island) in honor of the Blessed Virgin as Queen of the Angels. On this island, they found two Ohlone rancherias and also evidence of religious/ceremonial activities. Father Vincente Santa Maria described some of the regalia found at one of the shrines:

These were slim round shafts about a yard and a half high, ornamented at the top with bunches of white feathers, and ending, to finish them off, in an arrangement of black and red-dyed feathers imitating the appearance of the sun.

... This last exhibit gave me the unhappy suspicion that those bunches of feathers representing the image of the sun (which in their language they call gismen [the Ohlone word for sun] must be objects of the Indian's heathen veneration; ...

 

The Post-Contact Muwekma Ohlone and their ties to the Yelamu Ohlone of San Francisco, Missions Dolores, San Jose and Santa Clara and the East Bay Rancherias:

A Brief Historic Overview 1777 to 1906

The Yelamu tribal group of Ohlone Indians controlled the region comprising the City and County of San Francisco. According to the comprehensive mission record and ethnogeographic studies conducted by anthropologist Randall Milliken, it appears that the first four people from Yelamu were baptized by Father Cambon, and the others of the tribe were baptized by Fathers Palou and Santa Maria between 1777 - 1779. Apparently the first converts from the "rancheria de Yalamu· " into Mission Dolores also had relations with the neighboring rancherias (villages) of Sitlintac (located about 2.6 miles northeast of Mission Dolores), Chutchui, Amuctac, Tubsinte, and Petlenuc all located within the present boundaries of San Francisco. Sitlintac and Chutchui were located in the valley of Mission Creek. Amuctac and Tubsinte were established in the Visitation Valley area to the south. The village of Petlenuc may have been near the location of the Presidio. The Ohlone people from the Yelamu territory, as well as other tribal groups to the south, and across the East Bay, were missionized into Mission Dolores between 1777 to 1787. According to Fathers Palou and Cambon, the Ssalsones (the Ohlone tribal group located on the San Mateo Peninsula to the south), were intermarried with the Yelamu and called the Yelamu Aguazios, which means "Northerners".

Based upon genealogical information derived from the Mission Dolores records, the Yelamu Ohlone people of San Francisco were intermarried with other Ohlone tribal groups to the south and across the East Bay, prior to contact with the Spaniards. For example, Fathers Palou, Cambon, and Noriega over a period of time baptized the family of a Yelamu chief or captain named Xigmacse (a.k.a. Guimas) who was identified by Palou as the "Captain of the village of this place of the Mission". Father Cambon recorded two of Xigmacse’s wives, Huitanac and Uittanaca (who were sisters) as coming "from the other shore to the east at the place known as Cosopo". Recently some scholars have suggested that the ending "-cse" on a man's name (as in the case of Captain Xigmacse) served as an appellation of distinction or preeminence, thus identifying that person as a chief or one of distinguished status and high lineage. In another case of cross-Bay intermarriage between tribal groups involved a Yelamu woman named Tociom. Tociom had a daughter named Jojcote who according to Father Cambon was "born in the mountains to the east on the other side of the bay in the place called by the natives Halchis". The place called "Halchis" is the territory of the Jalquin Ohlone Tribe located within the greater Hayward/San Leandro/southern Oakland region.

It was into this complex and rapidly changing world that a young Jalquin Ohlone man named Liberato Culpecse, at the age of 14 years old (born 1787) was baptized on November 18, 1801 at Mission Dolores, along with other members of his tribe. Seven years later in 1808, Liberato Culpecse married his first wife and she died before 1818. Presumably, after the death of his wife, Liberato was allowed to move to the Mission San Jose region, where he met his second wife, Efrena Quennatole. Efrena who was Napian/Karquin Ohlone was baptized at Mission San Jose on January 1, 1815. Father Fortuny married Efrena and Liberato on July 13, 1818. Liberato Culpecse and Efrena Quennatole had a son named Jose Dionisio (Nonessa) Liberato and a daughter, Maria Efrena. Both Dionisio and Maria Efrena married other Mission San Jose Indians and they had children who later became the Elders (including members of the Guzman and Marine lineages) of the historic Federally Recognized Verona Band (Muwekma) community residing at the following East Bay rancherias: San Lorenzo, Alisal (Pleasanton), Del Mocho (Livermore), Niles, Sunol, and later Newark. These Muwekma/Verona Band Elders also enrolled along with their families with the Bureau of Indian Affairs under the 1928 California Indian Jurisdictional Act.

The natural and cultural worlds of all of the Ohlone tribal groups were drastically devastated within the first 25 years after contact due to the establishment of Missions San Carlos, Soledad, Santa Cruz, San Juan Bautista, Santa Clara, San Jose and Dolores (San Francisco), the military Presidios at Monterey and San Francisco, and the intolerant alien order imposed by the conquering Hispanic Empire. Of the approximately over twenty thousand Ohlonean speaking people who inhabited the greater San Francisco/Monterey Bay regions in 1769, less than 2000 were left by 1810. Their numbers continually declined throughout the remaining Spanish/Mexican/Californio regimes, and the surviving intermarried Muwekma families eventually sought refuge, especially after the American conquest of California (1846-1848), on some formal land grants issued to them by the Mexican Government and later on the six East Bay rancherias located within their ancestral homelands. During the mid-19th century, as the rest of the central California Indian tribal groups were displaced and, at times, hunted down, Alisal (located near Pleasanton) as well as the other rancherias, became safe-havens for the Muwekma Ohlone Indians and members from the neighboring interior tribes who had intermarried with them at the missions. The Alisal rancheria was established on the 1839 land grant belonging to a friendly Californio named Agustine Bernal.

Years later, in the 1880s, the Hearst family purchased part of the rancho containing the rancheria and Mrs. Hearst permitted the 125 Muwekmas living at Alisal to remain on the land, and even employing some of them to do her laundry. During the early part of the 20th century, the Muwekma Ohlone Indians (later identified as the Verona Band by the BIA) became Federally Recognized as a result of the Special Indian Census conducted by Agent C. E. Kelsey in 1905-1906 and the ensuing Congressional appropriation bills of 1906 and 1908, which were passed to purchase homesites for landless California Indians. Concurrently, during this period of time, Mrs. Phoebe Hearst was responsible for funding the fledgling Department of Anthropology at U.C. Berkeley. Dr. Alfred L. Kroeber, one of the early pioneering anthropologists, helped develop the Anthropology Department at Berkeley, and later became known as "the Father of California Anthropology". During the early part of this century, there were approximately 20,000 Indians left surviving in California, a devastating decline from the estimated population of 1.5 million people at the time of Hispano-European contact in 1769. Realizing such a state of devastation, Kroeber and his colleagues and students embarked upon the task to try to "salvage" as much memory culture and language from the surviving communities and elders, in order to record detailed aspects about their culture before their passing. This effort culminated in the monumental publication by Kroeber in 1925 entitled The Handbook of California Indians. In this Bureau of American Ethnology's (Smithsonian Institution) publication, Kroeber wrote of the Costanoans (Ohlones):

The Costanoan group is extinct so far as all practical purposes are concerned. A few scattered individuals survive, whose parents were attached to the missions San Jose, San Juan Bautista, and San Carlos; but they are of mixed tribal ancestry and live almost lost among other Indians or obscure Mexicans.

For the surviving Costanoan/Ohlone people of the 1920s, they never read of this sentence of "extinction", nor did they embrace it. Instead, the Muwekma Ohlone continued maintain their Indian culture, although by this time completely landless, they like the other Ohlone/Costanoan tribal communities (Amah-Mutsun/San Juan Band from Mission San Juan Bautista) and the Esselen/Costanoans/Monterey Band from Mission San Carlos/Carmel/ Monterey region), continued to survive as distinct Indian communities and speak their respective languages as late as the 1930s. It is from the fieldwork of linguist and cultural anthropologist, J. P. Harrington, associated with the Bureau of American Ethnology, who worked in the greater Ohlone region from 1921-1939 with the last fluent elderly speakers of the Ohlone languages that we know much about the culture and changing world of the Costanoan/Ohlone people that bridged into 20th century. Presently, the grandchildren of Harrington's linguistic and cultural consultants comprise the Elders and leadership of the Muwekma Ohlone Indian Tribe of the San Francisco Bay, as well as those of Amah Mutsun and Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen Nation.

The United States Government maintained a "Trust" relationship with these three "Costanoan" tribal groups from 1906 to 1927. In 1927, although landless, the Muwekma were administratively dropped or "no longer dealt with" (along with approximately 135 other Acknowledged California Indian communities) from their Federally Recognized status by Lafayette A. Dorrington, Superintendent of the Bureau of Indians Affairs in Sacramento. This unilateral administrative termination was enacted contrary to BIA policy and without any notification or due process to the tribes. Although, the Verona Band/Muwekma Ohlone families had enrolled with the Bureau of Indian Affairs under the 1928 California Jurisdictional Act, and have since organized themselves according to the Bureau's directives, they still have no right to be legally considered an Indian Tribe under federal law, without first obtaining reaffirmation and formally Acknowledged by the Secretary of the Interior.

 

 

 

The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay:

Shattering the Myth that the Ohlones were Never Federally Recognized

The Ohlone people have left a record of approximately 13,000 years of human history, and today they are still trying to overcome the onus of their sentence of "extinction" placed upon them by scholars, politicians, and anti-Indian activists, by continuing to educate the general public, academic institutions and the Federal Government through the historic record. After eight years of being in the petitioning process, and after the submittal of several thousand pages of historic and legal documentation, on May 24, 1996 the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Branch of Acknowledgment and Research (BAR) made a positive determination, but reluctantly acknowledged that:

Based upon the documentation provided, and the BIA's background study on Federal acknowledgment in California between 1887 and 1933, we have concluded on a preliminary basis that the Pleasanton or Verona Band of Alameda County was previous acknowledged between 1914 and 1927. The band was among the groups, identified as bands, under the jurisdiction of the Indian agency at Sacramento, California. The agency dealt with the Verona Band as a group and identified it as a distinct social and political entity.

Even after obtaining a positive determination of "previous unambiguous Federal recognition" the Muwekma still had to submit additional documentation in order to satisfy BAR, that the tribe minimally meet the seven mandatory criteria. Almost two years later, on March 26, 1998, as a result of submitting several more Exhibits, Division Chief of Tribal Operation, Deborah Maddox, issued a letter to the tribe stating that:

A review of the Muwekma submissions shows that there is sufficient evidence to review the petition on all seven of the mandatory criteria. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is placing the Muwekma petition on the ready for active consideration list as of March 26, 1998.

After being placed on "Ready Status", the Muwekma Tribal Council, reviewed the Federal Registry and counted the number of tribes listed on both "Active Consideration" and "Ready Status". Muwekma was about the 24th tribe factoring in both lists. Based upon the calculation that BAR was processing tribal petitions at the now rapid rate of approximately 1.3 petitions per year, it became very clear that it would take BAR over 20 years before it would get to Muwekma’s documented petition. The Tribal Council also raised the question if there were any other tribes on either list with a determination of "previous unambiguous Federal recognition". The only other tribe with that determination was the Cowlitz Tribe of Washington State, which had already obtained a preliminary positive final determination for Acknowledgment. As a result the Muwekma Tribal Council decided that a wait of 20 or more years was not acceptable to the Tribe, and therefore, sought alternative remedies.

On December 8, 1999, the Muwekma Tribal Council and its legal consultants filed a law suit against the Interior Department/BIA — naming Secretary Bruce Babbitt and AS-IA Kevin Gover over the fact the Muwekma as a previously recognized should not have to wait another 20 or more years to complete their reaffirmation process.

On June 30, 2000, Federal District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled in favor of the Muwekma Tribe and ordered the Interior Department to formulate a process to deal with the issues contained in Muwekma’s complaint (Civil Case No. 99-3261 RMU D.D.C.)

Between September to October 2000, following the court order, and after consultation with BAR staff, Muwekma submitted another two Exhibits which demonstrated how all of the currently enrolled members of the tribe are descended from full-blooded ancestors or siblings of ancestors listed on the Federal Indian Population Schedules of 1900 and 1910 for Washington, Murray and Pleasanton Townships, Alameda County, California and Kelsey’s 1905-1906 Special Indian Census.

As a result of the submittal of this documentation, on October 30, 2000, the Department of Interior’s, Branch of Acknowledgment and Research/Tribal Services Division of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, responding to the Court Order issued forward the following statements and conclusions:

"Previously recognized tribal entity"

Because of what is known from the historical context in this particular case, we are using the Indian population schedules of the 1900 and 1910 Federal Census of Alameda County, California, as evidence to approximate the composition of the group.

The petitioner has presented several analyses of its current membership as descendants of persons enumerated on (1) the Indian population schedules if the 1900 Federal Census of Alameda County, California, (2) the 1905-1906 "Kelsey Census" of non-reservation Indians of Alameda County, California, and (3) the sole Indian population schedule of the 1910 Federal Census of Alameda County, California. The petitioner’s documents and responses to prior TA letters include detailed person-by-person analyses of individuals on the Kelsey census and the 1910 Federal Census, summarizing all primary source evidence found for each individual. This evidence documents each person’s birth and/or baptism, marriage(s), death, appearance(s) as a parent or godparent in church records, appearances on other censuses, and participation or mention in records resulting from the California Indians Jurisdictional Act of 1928 (45 Stat 602). While the petitioner’s reconstruction of the historical band draws chiefly from the Kelsey census and the sole Indian schedule of the 1910 Federal Census of Alameda County, the BAR review also considered the Indian schedules of the 1900 Federal Census of Alameda County.

"Do current members "descend from" a previously recognized tribal entity?

… Analysis of the petitioner’s genealogical data indicates that 134 of a total of 397 current members (representing 34% of the membership) are direct descendants of Indian persons appearing on the Indian population schedules of the 1900 Federal Census for this county. The same 134 current members are also direct descendants of a slightly different set of Indian persons appearing on the 1905-1906 Kelsey census. A total of 68 current members (17% of the membership) are direct descendants of Indian persons enumerated on the Indian population schedule of the 1910 Federal Census; however, if direct descendants of siblings of the 1910 Indians are included, that total jumps to 279 members (of 70% of the membership). When combined with the members who have both types of ancestors), 100% of the membership is represented. Thus, analysis shows that the petition’s membership can trace (and, based on a sampling, can document) its various lineages back to individuals or to one or more siblings of individuals appearing on the 1900, "Kelsey", and 1910 census enumerations described above

Over the past 21 years, the Muwekma have politically, spiritually and culturally revitalized themselves and formed a formal tribal government in compliance with Congressional and the Department of the Interior's criteria. Presently, the Muwekma Tribe is seeking reinstatement and reaffirmation as a Federally Acknowledged Indian Tribe. The Muwekmas have spent these past 21 plus years conducting research and submitted to the Branch of Acknowledgment (BAR) over several thousand pages of historical and anthropological documentation as part of the petitioning process.

As Muwekma Elders are passing, the Muwekma Tribe has yet to advance through the "Recognition Process" for complete reaffirmation of its Acknowledged status. For other tribes it has been a long and difficult ordeal as well. For example, it took the Cowlitz Tribe of Washington 22 years to go through the Recognition Process and the Samish Tribe of Washington waited 25 years, including litigation in Federal Court for 8 years, before they won their Federal Recognition. As a result of their litigation, the Federal Courts decided that the Department of the Interior, BIA and BAR denied "Due Process" the Samish Tribe. Presently, there are over 200 unacknowledged tribes in the United States petitioning for recognition. After coming "back from extinction", the Muwekmas now face, along with approximately 40 other California Indian Tribes, BIA bureaucratic inaction and obstruction. The Muwekmas, who have never left their ancestral homelands, have been waiting for a response from the United States Government since 1906. In 1972, as a result of the 1928 California Indian Jurisdictional Act, the U.S. Government made a token payment of $668.51 (this sum calculated with interest back to 1852) as just compensation for the illegal acquisition (theft) of California land, minerals, and resources. This payment was issued to help California Indians build their futures upon.

As a result of the vision of the Muwekma Tribal leadership in laying out the only plan of action that the Federal Government will respond to, a lawsuit, the Muwekma have potentially paved the way for other previously Federally Recognized tribes to follow: a court ordered Fast Track. Based upon the court’s decision the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research has until July 30, 2001 to make its preliminary determination and the final determination no later than March 11, 2002.

After all said and done, it will be approximately 96 years after the Verona Band was first Federally Acknowledged, and perhaps now the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area, can be treated as an equal in the eyes of other Federally Recognized Indian Nations and the larger dominant society, some of whom still seeking to erode the rights of the aboriginal inhabitants of this continent.

Aho!