In September, four hundred people gathered in the quiet town of San Juan Bautista, in support of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band’s efforts to protect their sacred grounds from proposed sand and gravel mining operation. Led by a group of about 100 Amah Mutsun tribal members, a procession stretching for multiple city blocks passed through downtown San Juan Bautista and continued for five miles to the boundary of the threatened land.
“I get angry, sad and tired, that we have to keep fighting for who we are. But if we have to fight, I’m glad that we are here, fighting together,” said tribal member Veronica Martinez, who hosted the opening gathering of the walk. “I’m glad that we are doing this as one, not just as Amah Mutsun, but with neighboring tribes, and our many allies.”
Tribal leaders and special guests offered prayers and impassioned speeches to the crowd assembled in San Juan Bautista Plaza Square, prior to the commencement of the walk. Amah Mutsun Chairman Valentin Lopez expressed his gratitude for the overwhelming show of public support.
“Creator never rescinded our obligation to take care of Mother Earth. That is our responsibility today, and the Amah Mutsun are going to fulfill that responsibility,” Lopez said. “We ask the public to join us, and that’s why today is such a beautiful, beautiful day— you’re here to stand with us.”
Tribal leaders from other California indigenous nations, including Louise Ramirez of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation, Wounded Knee DeOcampo of the Tuolumne Miwok tribe and Caroline Ward of the Fernandeño Tataviam tribe spoke in solidarity with Amah Mutsun tribe’s efforts to protect Juristac.
“We need you to continue to stand up, to step up, and to respect the history of all of our people that goes back thousands of years,” said Louise Ramirez. “Stand tall, and continue. Remember, there are many threatened sacred sites, and we can all, together, take care of them.”
Just before the walk departed from the Plaza Square, a group of Amah Mutsun tribal youth took the stage to offer words of inspiration. “Today is so powerful because we are finally coming home,” 16-year old Roxanne Gaona said. “As youth it is our responsibility to make sure Juristac is protected. Our dream is to one day bring our own children here for the Big Head ceremony, as our ancestors did before us for thousands of years and hundreds of generations.”
With elders of the tribe in the lead, holding prayer staffs, flags, and banners, the crowd poured out onto 2nd St in downtown San Juan Bautista. Mutsun songs reverberated across the downtown streets and a spirit of reverence and purposefulness prevailed among the walkers.
Ketchum explained that Juristac was a “power area,” where ceremonies were held, medicines were gathered, and the tribe’s doctors (shamans) resided. He also explained that after Mission San Juan Bautista was secularized in 1835, many tribal members re-established residency along the Pajaro River in the vicinity of Juristac, on lands which the Mexican government promised to the Indians— only to be driven off the land years later, when American settlers claimed title to Rancho Juristac.
“What happened today is historic. When have the people of this area ever stood, and walked beside the indigenous people of this area?” Chairman Valentin Lopez declared. “Today shows that the times are changing and people are ready for healing.”
For more info: https://amahmutsun.org