115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Fragmented Stories and Land: Mosaic Strategies for California Indian Survivance

Michael Rozendal, University of San Francisco

This paper will consider the strategies for land and cultural preservation in the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, an “indigenous, women-led community organization” in the San Francisco Bay Area. Without federal recognition of the Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone, the trust embraces fragmented urban spaces as openings for culture, coalition, and community. I see this in relation to Debora Miranda’s narrative strategies in her Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir (2012). 


Where are Native Americans in the dot-com digitalization and gentrified urbanization of the San Francisco Bay? Without federal recognition of the Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone, the original inhabitants of the East Bay, they face an apparently total expropriation of their land—paved over and subdivided, with massive shellmounds, sacred and communal sites, literally bulldozed to make the Bay Street Mall in Emeryville. Rejecting narratives of erasure or “victimry” (Vizenor), the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust sees Indian culture as current, living, dynamic community, proposing the emergent possibility that any part of the East Bay could be returned to “indigenous stewardship”. To put it succinctly, their vision calls to “decolonize the land” within the metropolitan center.

            In this process, they are creating a living mosaic out of the fragments of Ohlone land and culture, a project that resonates with Deborah Miranda’s Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir (2012).  Miranda’s multi-genre book unearths multiple layers of trauma as she traces a history of violence that runs through her own experience, the photographs of her family, and back to the Spanish Missions leaving the Esselen, like so many Californian tribes, unrecognized, erased, officially the first California tribe rendered “extinct”. Miranda’s histories offer a rebuttal to the anthropologists like J.P. Harrington who were collecting the “vestiges” of Native Californian languages and stories to join the Indian bones held in the Smithsonian as solely archival.

            Nearly half a century after the Indian Occupation of Alcatraz Island (1969-1971), the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust proposes a different type of visibility for urban Indians in the San Francisco area.