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Rumsen Ohlone, a brief history

Or: the Ethnic Dance Festival’s commission and production support for the Ohlone make these events a turning point in the awareness of San Franciscans about the tribe. The text below appears on the Festival brochure. ON this page we add links and documentation to the thesis and answer the question: Why have you never heard of them?

We are honored to feature at the center of this year’s programs the re-emergence and return of the Ohlone, native people of San Francisco, who many erroneously assume to have been driven to extinction.

Ohlone people lived on these lands for many millennia before 1775 when the first European ship arrived. In 1776, life changed drastically when the Hispanic Empire established the Mission in San Francisco. Within six weeks, all of the Ohlone that were living in what is now San Francisco were decimated, scattered, or brought into service at the Mission. The approximately 20,000 Ohlone people who had been living in the Bay Area at this time were reduced to less than 2,000 by 1810.

In the Missions, the Ohlone were strictly prohibited from practicing their ceremonies, and many of their dances and songs were lost, as well as much of their language. Their numbers continued to decline and in 1834, Mexico ended the Mission system and most of the remaining native people in San Francisco, including ancestors of the Rumsen Ohlone Tribe, moved south to Carmel.

When the United States defeated Mexico in 1848 and took control of California, the Ohlone were never recognized by the government. At that time, the murdering of native people was common and the Rumsen Ohlone fled to Southern California, where they could more easily survive, working on ranches.

Today, the Rumsen Ohlone Tribe lives in and near Pomona, California, under the leadership of Tony Cerda. The 2,000 members continue to sustain their cultural traditions, and although the United States government refuses to acknowledge the existence of the Ohlone, we invite you to join with us in celebrating their return to San Francisco, sharing the joy and beauty of their culture.

Their return to San Francisco will include a ceremony and performance at San Francisco City Hall, a traditional healing ceremony at Yerba Buena Gardens —which was an ancestral Ohlone burial ground—and a culminating Festival appearance at Yerba Buena Center for the Art’s Novellus Theatre by the Rumsen Ohlone Tribe’s Humaya Singers and Dancers.