Native American issue in Los Gatos composite
(L-R) Laurel Prevetti (credit: Drew Penner / Los Gatan), Alicia Spargo (credit: Town LG), Ryan Baker (credit: Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

During its regularly scheduled meeting, Dec. 6, Mayor Rob Rennie asked Town Manager Laurel Prevetti for an update on the process to officially acknowledge Los Gatos’ earliest residents.

But her response—while delighting some First Nations advocates—left one group in particular feeling a little left out.

“We did have a Council meeting about land acknowledgement,” Rennie noted. “And we got sidetracked on the idea of whether we were supposed to be acknowledging the Tamien Nation or the Muwekma Tribe.”

Prevetti said the Town is committed to completing a land acknowledgement and is partnering with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of San Francisco Bay to get it done.

“We do have some work ahead of us in terms of consulting with the Muwekma Ohlone—and making sure that our land acknowledgement duly respects the people of this land,” she said. “We will then be bringing that back to the Council for future consideration. We are also about to embark on our equity plan, which will give us an opportunity to work with our community and listen to all voices regarding celebrations and honoring the many people that live here in Los Gatos.”

Two days later, Quirina Geary, the chairwoman of the Tamien Nation, sent a letter to Council, in which she took issue with apparently being left out of the Town’s plans to fashion a land acknowledgment.

“Tamien Nation’s ancestors were taken to every mission from Santa Barbara to Mission Dolores,” she wrote “These missions do not define who we are, nor does this fact give us the right to claim lands outside of Tamien Territory.”

In the message, she accused Muwekma of doing just that and invited Los Gatos to consult with Tamien Nation on the Council-approved effort instead.

Tamien Nation and the Muwekma Ohlone have both been involved with Washington’s process to receive official tribal status; Muwekma successfully won a legal challenge to speed up Bureau of Indian Affairs bureaucracy, but was denied and is now seeking recognition through Congress. Neither is currently considered a “federally recognized” tribe by the federal government—though Muwekma was previously recognized as the Verona Band of Alameda County.

‘Stop focusing on limitations and start focusing on possibilities’

—Alicia Spargo, Los Gatos resident

Tamien Nation had submitted an intent to begin the “federal recognition” process (under a previous name), although it later withdrew this. Geary says they tried to file the paperwork again, but were unable, as the rules have changed to prevent groups from using the Office of Federal Acknowledgement process to gain clout.

Geary says Tamien Nation plans to submit a more complete application in the future after it completes more research on its membership.

Rob Edwards, who taught anthropology at Cabrillo College and worked on an archeological site in Scotts Valley, said Hokan-speaking people were in the region for more than 10,000 years and Penutian speakers—from which Ohlone-subgroups appear to have branched off, arrived between 500-1,000 years ago.

However, new DNA-based research methods are emerging to help test this theory, he added.

In an interview with the Los Gatan, Prevetti said Los Gatos hasn’t made any decisions about who it will recognize as the historic inhabitants or who it will consult with on the land acknowledgement.

“We have to go through a very sensitive and delicate process,” she said. “We don’t want either tribe to feel that we aren’t being respectful.”

Prevetti said the reason she mentioned Muwekma specifically is because the Los Gatos Anti-Racism Coalition had initially proposed a land acknowledgement prepared by Tamien Nation and she wanted it on the record that the Muwekma Ohlone are now being included in discussions, too.

“It’s really about a process of talking with the tribes,” she said, suggesting it may take some time to get things right. “We’ve been told we have to be very patient.”

The Los Gatan reached out to Muwekma leadership for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

During verbal communications, Ami Davis, the executive director of New Museum Los Gatos (NUMU), which uses a land recognition from Muwekma, advocated for formal recognition of Native American Heritage Month, the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe and “native people in our community” by the Town.

“Since at least the 1990s, NUMU’s hosted exhibitions and programs highlighting Muwekma art and history,” she said. “Our current exhibition, Reclamation, features portraits of the tribe’s contemporary activities, as well as select San Francisco Bay places of significance, through the work of tribal photographer Kike Arnal.

“With their ethnohistorian, Alan Leventhal, and the rest of the San Jose State University anthropology department, the Muwekma community have expressed an explicit desire to tell this story here in Los Gatos at NUMU, because the politics of erasure are particularly acute in Los Gatos’ history.”

In the late 1800s burial and ceremonial sites were likely damaged by developers, she noted.

“After decades of unfair and inequitable government bureaucracy, the Muwekma tribal leadership is still working on various remedies for reaffirmation of the tribe’s federally-acknowledged status with the Biden Administration,” she said. “Until this status is reinstated, they do not have access to scholarships, health care or other critical resources afforded to other U.S. tribes that are federally recognized.”

Davis thanked the community members who attended a Nov. 5 ceremony where “vibrant, dedicated” members of Muwekma shared a land acknowledgement and sang in Chochenyo.

“The Town of Los Gatos has an opportunity to harness this energy and express authentic allyship with the original inhabitants of this area, and the native people who live in our community, by amplifying Muwekma’s call for reclaiming federal recognition on social media, flying the Muwekma tribal flag on the Civic Center Plaza and/or sharing the efforts of your local cultural organizations—like NUMU, like the library,” she said. “So I’m asking to honor the Muwekma Tribe, and honor the native people in our community, by amplifying Indigenous efforts and legacy in November—and year round—by recognizing Native American Heritage Month.”

Alicia Spargo, a Native American activist enrolled with the Yaquis of Southern California who lives in Los Gatos, became emotional during the public comment period as she shared her disappointment that it took the Los Gatos Library until Nov. 19 to post about Native American Heritage Month on its Instagram page.

The Town held other cultural programming to teach about native history and culture, last month, and notes it has limited social media resources.

But Los Gatos Library Director Ryan Baker admits he dropped the ball.

He told the Los Gatan he’d promised Spargo a year ago he’d post about Native American Heritage Month this November, but let this fall through the cracks even after she sent him a reminder in October.

Plus, he says, he became defensive in responding to her, because he didn’t fully appreciate the impact of failing to follow-through with a post. He ultimately wrote her a two-page Letter of Apology, he says, adding he did this of his own accord and wasn’t directed by higher-ups.

Ryan Baker librarian
Ryan Baker in his office. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

“I began this journey in a state of denial,” he wrote. “I believed what we had done to celebrate Native American Heritage Month was a success…I only came to realize much later that what we were doing was never the issue, it was about who I personally was excluding and why…now I see that what I believed were attacks were actually pleas to be heard from a voice representing peoples that have been marginalized for centuries.”

At Council, Spargo urged the Town to put both Indigenous People’s Day and Native American Heritage Month on its official calendar.

“If you all are going to make public statements that you want to further efforts of diversity, equity and inclusion, then you must do so with action,” she said. “And if a person of color approaches you with easy ways that you can create actual change to better diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, please be open and kind to us.

“Stop focusing on limitations and start focusing on possibilities.”

During the meeting Prevetti said the Town is building a calendar that will include Native American Heritage Month.

“We do need a process that will broaden the voices,” she said. “And I really appreciate the community members who’ve come out to speak on this very important topic.”

The Town says it will provide additional details in the New Year. Over at the library, Baker has already been developing a list of potential cultural events to celebrate.

In an interview, Prevetti credited Spargo for helping push this effort along and said a calendar—featuring a variety of holidays and other periods of recognition—will come before Council so community members can provide input.

“I think if we’re serious about diversity and equity, we all need to engage in our own ways,” she said. “We all can step up a little bit more.”

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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