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Cultural Recognition

Five years ago the Ohlone Profiles Project met at Indian Canyon and asked 5 Ohlone culture bearers what we could do to help Ohlone people in San Francisco. Charlene Sul, Ann Marie Sayers, Gregg Castro, Catherine Herrera, and Kanyon Sayers Rood asked us to engage in four cycles of ceremonies at sacred sites in San Francisco.

We have done that. Working with Tony Cerda and the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe’s Humaya Dancers, we have engaged in 4 healing ceremonies at Rob Hill Campground and 4 at Hunter’s Point Naval Base. We also entered the Humaya Dancers into three major San Francisco arts festivals.

Now that those ceremonies are complete, some Ohlone people are asking us to continue making space for them to come together. We think we can support an Ohlone summer cultural camp where Ohlone people can share, learn, and create. We also think we can continue to support the Big Time Gatherings where Ohlone can host neighboring tribes, and where San Franciscans can come to learn and appreciate Ohlone culture.

The biggest problem we see in going forward is the rivalry between Ohlone organizations. Our perspective is that we can serve all Ohlone people if we agree to support Ohlone culture. We can help preserve traditions. Our goal from our future events is to help Ohlone people get to know each other and learn from each other about Ohlone culture. Secondarily, our goal is to help other people in San Francisco learn about Ohlone culture.

Many Ohlone organizations are applying for federal recognition from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Our view is that BIA “re-recognition” is not something we can influence. Nothing we can do will affect an applicant’s status. Some Ohlone groups think that appearing in San Francisco makes their BIA appeal stronger. Some think that they can assert ‘ownership’ of San Francisco by being the group that presents Ohlone culture to the city. Other groups are angry at Ohlone who appear in San Francisco without their permission.

Mary Jean and I take these claims seriously. We have researched them thoroughly. We are convinced that appearing in San Francisco or hosting in San Francisco will not affect any of the group’s chances with the BIA.

We are about cultural recognition: Ohlone people learning and practicing their culture, and Ohlone people teaching San Franciscans to recognize and support Ohlone culture. This is all we can do and we think it is worth it.