makkin 'alšip-mak. We are grateful.
On December 17, 2017 something incredible happened in xučyun (Old Oakland) at E14 Gallery.
We brought a feast composed entirely of Ohlone foods, made with pre-contact, traditional ingredients to this powerful gallery space and shared our story of Ohlone persistence, continuity, struggle, and beauty. The space, an old brick building built with money from the Gold Rush — money that was obtained in the 1800s doing the worst types of injustices against Indian people — has been transformed by the staff of E14 Gallery, especially the powerful work of Vivana Rodriguez, a strong Chicana leader who strives to have the voices of communities of color promoted and heard. Her gracious opening of the space to mak-'amham was a natural fit.
The East Bay is our home; the home of my community, the Chochenyo Ohlone people. In spite of all the hardships and challenges our people have faced since the start of Euro-American colonization, we have persisted. No generation of my family has been born out of this ancient, beloved place that we descend from — stretching back into our Creation time. We still live and thrive here to this day. Of course, this did not come without a heavy price our people had to pay, challenges we still face with the ongoing forces of colonization that attempt to break us from our home. Yet, we persist, and we will unquestionably never leave our hiswi-warep, our birth place.
Colonization also attempted to suppress every aspect of our Ohlone culture; from language, to basketry, from religion, to even our very names. Colonization also attempted to break us from our cuisine, our foods that are rooted in the homeland. Our ancestors had undeniable strength, and refused to surrender the things they cared the most about — that is what makes revival of these old ways possible.
Louis, his community from the Carmel Valley, and myself work hard — along with our elders and members of our communities to bring these old ways back into existence. We resist the theft of land and suppression of our culture by finding ways to honor our people from before, strengthen our contemporary identities, as well as ensuring future generations will not have to work quite as hard to revive, so that these meaningful cultural ways can continue as they are intended to. We are seeing this come true, as young people grow up with Chochenyo and Rumsen Ohlone languages in their lives, Ohlone foods on dinner tables again, story come back home, our values revived, and our connection to homeland strengthened. This is a collective effort, it's not just us — we are voices in a chorus of many. Our Creator and our ancestors are the guiding forces.
Part of this effort also means that we have the courage to speak out, loudly, to remind people of our continued existence. Sometimes this can be difficult because we have seen what happens when Indian people speak out; we are often belittled and told our truths do not matter by larger society. Echoes of people angrily and dismissively telling us it's the past, and get over it are common, even in the ultra-progressive bubble of the Bay Area. It's not the past, and we are not over it. Far from it. Healing takes time, and the efforts to destroy us, while not successful, left tangible pain that is evident in all aspects of our world.
With our ancestors as a model of survival, we still persist. We find the courage to speak out and remind people that this is Ohlone land, we have never ceded or given up this place. We have never left. We never will.
On December 17th we did just that. We decolonized a very colonial space — bringing the power of Ohlone culture front and center; creating a space full of Ohlone language, Ohlone stories — and, of course, Ohlone cuisine. A five-course meal of small, nourishing bites, all paired with Native teas gathered in our home.
Rose hip tea served with popped amaranth seeds, soft boiled quail eggs, and piñon nuts; white sage tea with Native greens, and purslane in homage to my great-grandma, Mary Archuleta, who loved that plant dearly and was the last generation of my intermediate family to gather traditionally before the contemporary revival. We made blackberry and bay laurel soda served with acorn flour flatbread, the acorn from saklan, a family tribal area east of the Oakland Hills; elderberry cider gathered from Louis' Rumsen homeland in the Carmel Valley served with savory venison meatballs full of juicy huckleberries and crushed yerba buena, also from saklan, where many of my direct ancestors are from. For dessert we shared freshly gathered yerba buena tea with acorn brownies which we make to introduce acorn, a beloved traditional food, to our young people for the first time, and sweet pinole seed cakes shaped in the same form as described to us from old notes recorded in the 1930s.
All of the food served had intention and rootedness in place. We spoke of our contemporary identities, and the struggles our people face today. It was boisterous, loud, unabashed, and uniquely Ohlone. Each time we described a course, it had a story and a proper name in our language.
We are grateful. Grateful for Vivana Rodriguez from E14 Gallery for opening space for us to do this. Grateful for Alicia Adams (Maidu/Chemehuevi) for the logistical and emotional support, grateful for Jayden Lim (Pomo) for bringing Native house music to our event through DJ'ing. Grateful for everyone who showed up, ate, listened and understood that mak-'amham is centered on justice for our people.
We feel victorious, and we know there will be more events like this. Food is connected to every other aspect of our culture; as we eat these ancient foods, woven together with Ohlone language and story, all while being present in our homeland we are closer to those old ways, and our ancestors, that are cherished and wholeheartedly loved. We bring honor to our people and strengthen our collective identities. Not merely of the past, we are people of the present — of the 21st century. We will be here tomorrow, too.
In Chochenyo language, the oldest language of the inner East Bay, we say holše mak-nuunu our story is beautiful, ṭuyye mak-muwekma our people are strong, 'ayye makiš haššemak horše mak-muwekma hemmen ṭuuxi and we make things better for our people everyday.
makkin 'ammamak 'oyyo rooket, we will eat again soon.
'alšip-mak (we are grateful) to Scott Braley for taking these photographs and sharing them with us. Scott has long worked with Native communities to document significant community events.