Organization Of The Month: March 2019

Sogorea Te Land Trust

PHOTO: Sogorea Te’ Land Trust

PHOTO: Sogorea Te’ Land Trust

Rebecca Marlin Pet Care will donate 10% of each month's profits to a different organization doing local social justice work and/or work related to animals. The organization will be listed and promoted here on the website and on social media. If you would like your organization to be involved or have an idea for an organization to donate to, please contact Rebecca at Preference will be given to people-of-color-led organizations that provide direct services to marginalized communities.

This month, to facilitate the return of Chochenyo and Ohlone lands in the San Francisco Bay Area to indigenous stewardship, 10% of March's profits will go to Sogorea Te Land Trust.

From the Sogorea Te Land Trust’s website:

The Sogorea Te Land Trust is an urban Indigenous women-led community organization that facilitates the return of Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone lands in the San Francisco Bay Area to Indigenous stewardship. Sogorea Te creates opportunities for all people living in Ohlone territory to work together to re-envision the Bay Area community and what it means to live on Ohlone land. Guided by the belief that land is the foundation that can bring us together, Sogorea Te calls on us all to heal from the legacies of colonialism and genocide, to remember different ways of living, and to do the work that our ancestors and future generations are calling us to do.

We envision working towards the acquisition of a variety of lands situated throughout Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone territory, with an emphasis on reclaiming parcels in the midst of an urban setting. Fundraising will be ongoing and our goals are ambitious. We are seeking donations of funds and property deeds from individuals, family trusts, businesses, and organizations. Contributions are tax deductible via our 501(c)3 tax status. We are also initiating an innovative strategy for raising the capital required to buy back stolen Indigenous lands— the Shuumi Land Tax.

Johnella LaRose and Corrina Gould

“There are many indigenous people in the San Francisco Bay Area, and there are many important places in dire need of protection. The land trust and accompanying tool of the conservation [or cultural] easement are mechanisms that indigenous groups can use to protect, access, restore, and reclaim lands.” —Beth Rose Middleton (board member)

Locating ourselves on this land

The East Bay is the ancestral homeland of Chochenyo-speaking Ohlone people.

“I believe that no matter where you come from, you have a responsibility to know where you stand. People need to know that there was a people who lived there before they did. They need to consider, then, what’s their responsibility to the land, to each other, and to the First Nations people who come from there?” —Corrina Gould, Chochenyo/Karkin Ohlone

“I really feel like as people, that we have a responsibility to caretake the land, and that’s why we’re here. We’re not here just to consume and take. And that’s really the culture— we’re in the culture of taking, of using and consuming. And never giving back. It’s really not healthy. It’s not healthy for anybody.” —Johnella LaRose

The Bay Area is also home to a diverse Indigenous diaspora of people who were relocated from their ancestral homelands and reservations during the era of the US Government’s Indian Termination (forced assimilation) policies, such as the Indian Relocation Act of 1956. Though Ohlone women are central to its vision and leadership, the Sogorea Te Land Trust is an inter-tribal Indigenous women-led land trust. “As we reclaim our land in this urban area, it’s important to understand that we are doing that work as Indigenous people from many tribes, working together to create healing on this land.” —Corrina Gould

Finding our way back

“The loss of land plays out in our every day lives and it shapes how we look at things and how we feel about ourselves. We’ve spent 15 years in the Bay Area doing community organizing in the Indian community. And honestly, all the issues we’re struggling with come down to land. You know, the land was taken and that was such a deep soul wound. The taking of the land, the heart of the people, was the cause of a lot of problems. And I believe that with the land trust, and you know, the land itself, I think that’s really going to help us to find our way back.” —Johnella LaRose

A place to come together

“The first thing I envision doing is creating a space where Ohlone people can come together. We can revitalize language and song and dance and ceremony. We can talk about ways of looking at the Bay Area in a different way, and really doing what our ancestors had originally taught us to do: take care of the land.

And how do we do that in an urban environment, with cities built up all around us? How do we stay true to those original teachings? How do we then pass that on to our kids? It’s about the survival of our culture and who we are as Ohlone people. In every other way we have been erased, and that can’t continue to happen. Our generation has to make this leap.” —Corrina Gould

Places for ceremony

“My dream is to have a dance house, a roundhouse, here in the Bay Area like our ancestors did, where my grandchildren and great-grandchildren can dance. For all of the Ohlone people in the area to be able to come together, to have a sacred place, to have those ceremonies again. There has not been a roundhouse on our homelands for many, many years. Being able to create that and to bring those dances back is important, it’s a pivotal point in our healing process.” —Corrina Gould

Bringing the ancestors home

“The remains of over 15,000 of our ancestors are locked up at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University, along with countless artifacts. The ancestors were violently taken out of the land because of development. That’s one of the main things this land trust is about: getting those ancestors returned to us and put back into the ground so that we can all heal.

Shellmounds are sacred funerary monuments, burial grounds, for Ohlone people. At one time, 425 shellmounds surrounded the entire San Francisco Bay. Every one of those has been destroyed by development. My goal is that one day, with everyone helping, we could re-create a shellmound so there is a place for us to actually bring those ancestors home and re-inter them. The land trust will allow us to do that. With everybody helping out, it can happen.” —Corrina Gould

“We believe that these ancestors are taking care of us, and we’re going to become ancestors ourselves. And so, if we don’t take care of these ancestors, we’re not going to get those messages, and those teachings that we need to move on in this life. So, we have to do a good job of keeping them safe in their burial sites.” —Johnella LaRose

Restoring indigenous land stewardship

“The land trust will also make it possible for us to relearn our traditional methods of taking care of the land. We can begin bringing back some of our traditional foods, like acorns. With that comes ways of taking care of the land such as [prescribed] burning. Burning also helps to bring back some of those native plants that were here before, so that we can bring back the basket weaving, that we can bring back the medicines that were always here, that we can begin to teach ourselves how it is that we are supposed to live on this land again.

There’s a lot of open space parks in the Bay Area, set up for recreation. With the land trust, we would like to establish cultural easements on those lands so that we can practice our cultural belief systems, protect our sacred places, and actually have a voice over what happens there. We are not a special interest group, like many park districts or parks often assume—we are the original caretakers of this land. With easements, we could actually have a say – an equal say – in what happens on those lands.” —Corrina Gould

Community gardens and places to gather

We also envision that on some urban parcels of land that the land trust acquires, community gardens can be established which can also serve as places for social engagement. “In the Indian community we’re in a crisis around food, and we have no place to grow this food. There are many community gardens in the Bay Area, but the native community does not have one. We do not have one. We need that kind of space to grow food, spaces where everybody could come and gather—safe space for young people, children, and families to be.” —Johnella LaRose

“I envision having time with my grandchildren and my great grandchildren to be able to be on the land in a sustainable way. That my kids, my grandkids and my great grandchildren can play on the land, and they can be connected to the land again. In this urban area, kids can’t even go outside and play anymore. It’s toxic to have our children outside because human beings have been so far away from being human to each other.

Getting back to traditional and sustainable foods is also important for us because as native people, we have some of the highest rates of diabetes and heart disease and all of these other horrible things that came with western culture. By going back to our original food sources, we can start reversing that. We can heal ourselves with the food that was always here for us.” —Corrina Gould

A different kind of land trust

“When you think about land trusts in California—and there are many of them—we think about places that are supposed to be preserved forever. But often they have big fences around them that say “no trespassing.” And that’s not the kind of land trust we’re looking at. We’re looking at a stewardship that leaves the land undeveloped, but also invites people to become part of it again. And so I think that we’re considering it in a whole different way.” —Corrina Gould

“My impression is that generally, land trusts have been run by men. And right now I really feel like the land is calling women back, you know, to take care of the land. I really feel like that’s where we’re at at this time in history.” —Johnella LaRose

“It’s exciting to think about a land trust in an urban context, because in the urban context you have unrecognized Indigenous people’s rights always being affected, always being trampled on, really. Now, we’re exploring how the land trust or the conservation easement can be used as a tool for justice in this context. I don’t think anyone’s really seen that yet, at all.” —Beth Rose Middleton

“We have this opportunity to create an urban native land trust that is women led: to bring in all our relations in a new kind of community that is so desperately needed in the world today, and for the earth. I find it very inspiring, very original, and very creative, and I’m happy to be a part of it in any humble way I can contribute.” —Melissa K. Nelson

A healing for everyone

“This land trust is a way for us as human beings to come back to being human beings. A way for us to learn how to treat each other with respect. A way for us to re-envision the Bay Area. We can create a healing for the people that are here. Not just the Ohlone people, but all people that exist on this land.” —Corrina Gould

“I really feel connecting with the land is healing for everybody. It’s not just, oh we’re native people, we’re close to the land, we have this spiritual connection: everybody has a spiritual connection, but it’s been lost. I think over time, the more you are separated from land the more you forget about it. And the more damage that you can do— you can be more irresponsible when you don’t have this connection to the land.”
—Johnella LaRose

“Coming to the Bay Area, everybody knows that it’s really difficult to pay for anything here. So I think that one of the things that we need to think about is how do we dream that together? How does this land trust become not just my dream, but it a dream of people in the Bay Area that really want to see something different? A way for us to humanize ourselves, a way for us to be together on land. We need a whole community to envision this, to dream this out with us, beyond the parameters that we’ve all been given.”
—Corrina Gould

“Well I think for a lot of Indian people, there’s the feeling that we can never get the land back. There’s this way that you feel like it’s gone forever. But I just don’t believe that. I feel that we have a responsibility to really try and get the land back, and this land trust is one of the ways we’re going to do it.”
—Johnella LaRose