Fall 2018 Newsletter
NOTES FROM THE NATIVE STEWARDSHIP CORPS
Alexii Sigona, Native Steward Intern
The AMLT Native Stewardship Corps reconnects tribal members with traditional cultural practices, places, and knowledge through conservation fieldwork and cultural education. Here Alexii Sigona shares his experience as a summer intern on the crew. Alexii is in his senior year at San Francisco University working towards a degree in Environmental Studies, and he intends to pursue a graduate degree focused on food rights and land sovereignty among federally unrecognized tribes.
Late on a sunny Monday morning, the Amah Mutsun Native Stewardship Corps drives to the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum. The sun is a nice change from our last location, foggy Pescadero State beach, where we tidepooled earlier in the day with UC Berkeley archaeologists and learned about our ancestors’ relationship with “kalle,” the ocean.
Here at the Arboretum, we meet with Rick Flores, a close friend of the Tribe, who shows us around and explains to us the unique partnership between the University and our Tribe. Our task today is to find suitable willow branches for building a sweat lodge. Gabriel and Abran, two of the most experienced Mutsun stewards, express to us the importance of respectfully gathering what we need and the importance of making an offering of tobacco for each branch we harvest. It is time to bushwack into the riparian zone in search of healthy, straight willow poles, that are at least eight feet in length. I navigate my way through this thicket, hoping to not get poison oak and thinking about how this tradition of gathering willow has been practiced for thousands of years in this territory. I find a suitable branch and wade through poison oak and brush and climb up a healthy willow where I make an offering to take a particularly straight and young branch. Below me, Abran, Chris, Od., and Mariah stand by to help. While this is only the beginning of the stewardship corps, I already feel a strong connection and support system between myself and fellow Native Stewards.
After harvesting no more than we needed, we head back to Cascade Ranch, our base camp that consists of one large 19th-century ranch home and a lawn dotted with tents, port-a-potty’s, and solar showers for the stewards to utilize after a hard days’ work. Although we are physically fatigued, our day is not over. The rest of the evening will consist of a Mutsun language lesson from Chairman Val Lopez, yet another opportunity to learn and share knowledge with fellow tribal members. Every day is long but brings about a multitude of lessons and experiences from Traditional Ecological Knowledge to language, to ceremony. Tomorrow we will construct the sweat lodge with help from our Tachi Yokuts relatives. The poles will be woven together in a dome-shaped frame, each pole playing its part in providing the necessary strength and flexibility to maintain an erect structure. The dome-shaped structure will be enveloped in blankets to help retain the heat during sweat.
This interdependence of willow poles is precisely what I experienced with the Stewardship Corps. As our program director Jeanette Acosta (Coastal band Chumash) puts it, not only do we weave a physically tight basket of willow poles for our sweat, we also weave a collective basket with our strong relationships with each other. As stewards we provide a strong support group, holding each other to be the best people we can be, while collectively working to bring back traditional practices to help heal ourselves as well as “pire,” Mother Earth.