By Amah Mutsun Land Trust staff
On the evening of August 5th, 446 guests attended the Protecting Sacred Landscapes online event to learn about the cultural and ecological importance of Juristac in Santa Clara County and Medicine Lake in Siskiyou County. A video of the full event is now available!
The inspirational event was hosted by the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and Green Foothills, and cosponsored by nine other organizations (listed below). Julisa Lopez of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band was MC for the evening. “I want to highlight the importance of Juristac to us. It’s very very close to us,” she told the audience. Morning Star Gali of the Ajumawi Band of the Pit River Tribe shared an overview of her tribe’s successful campaign to protect the sacred Medicine Lake Highlands near Mount Shasta from a proposed geothermal industrial facility. “Medicine Lake is a place for healing and for ceremonies to take place,” Gali shared. “Within our Pit River creation stories, the Creator and his son bathed themselves in the lake after creating the earth, and left those natural healing properties within the lake.” Gali emphasized the importance of understanding locations such as the Medicine Lake Highlands or Juristac as sacred tribal landscapes of interconnected cultural sites, rather than viewing individual sites—such as Medicine Lake itself—in isolation.
Alice Kaufman, Legislative Advocacy Director at Green Foothills, provided an overview of the proposed sand and gravel mining project that is threatening Juristac (Sargent Ranch). Juristac is the sacred ceremonial grounds of the Amah Mutsun and forms a vital refuge and landscape linkage for native wildlife. “The landowner [Debt Acquisition Company of America] needs to abandon their proposal and instead sell all of the land for conservation,” Kaufman stated. “There are conservation agencies and organizations that are standing ready to purchase the land.” Conservation ecologist Dr. Stuart Weiss of Creekside Science presented a slideshow about natural features of the Juristac area and their ecological significance, particularly highlighting the importance of the critical wildlife linkage at Juristac. Weiss stated that the proposed mining operation at Juristac with its heavy equipment, lighting and haul roads “is basically going to form an arc that cuts off the best available [wildlife] crossings under Highway 101.”
Weiss also described the significance of Sargent Creek and its pristine watershed. This creek provides quality groundwater recharge and runoff for the Pajaro River and contains a rare stream-dwelling population of the California red-legged frog, a federally-listed threatened species. Weiss said that the proposed mining project would amount to “the end of integrity for the Sargent Creek watershed.” Amah Mutsun Chairman Valentin Lopez delivered a 20-minute presentation, the last of the evening. “Our tribe wants to return to Juristac,” Lopez said. “We want to be able to restore our food plants, our medicine plants, our basketry plants. We want to restore our ceremonies. There’s places of power there that we are aware of, and we’d like to return to those places of power. So that whenever we have prayers and needs, we can go to those places of power. And be closer to our ancestors, and be closer to Creator.”
Chairman Lopez focused his remarks on the spiritual significance of Juristac, and described aspects of the traditional worldview of the Amah Mutsun. “Our creation story tells us that at creation, Creator very specifically picked our people to live within our territory, and to take care of it. That we were responsible for all living things. And all living things means the air, the wildlife, the fish, the trees, the land, the rocks. Everything above, in the sky, everything below, in the ground. That’s our responsibility.” “We look at those as relatives, because Creator made us—and Creator also made the land. He made the rocks, the stars, the water, the air. Those were all made by Creator. Therefore they are our relatives, and that’s how our people learned to take care of Mother Earth. Recognize it as a relative. And just as whenever we have a child, a baby, you treat that baby with love, with caring, with patience, with kindness. You teach it, and you learn from it. You sing to it, you talk to it. That’s the relationship we have for the land. That’s our way of stewarding the land. That’s the kind of relationship we want with Juristac.”
Morning Star Gali of the Pit River Tribe shared final remarks while answering an audience question about the challenges faced by tribes in protecting their sacred lands. A longtime advocate for protecting Indigenous cultural heritage, Gali said that in recent years she has seen some headway that’s been made. “I do hope that especially with the efforts to protect Juristac, that the officials in those elected positions are more open to tribal viewpoints and more able to understand why these places are so significant. And, that the burden of proof does not continually have to be placed on us for that to happen.” In closing the event, Julisa Lopez reflected on how historical trauma and the loss of traditional lands such as Juristac have impacted Amah Mutsun families. “We’ve gone through a lot of pain, and we’re ready for the growth.”
Protecting Sacred Landscapes event co-sponsors
Thank you to all the amazing sponsoring organizations and schools, and everyone else who worked diligently to get the word out! Here are links to each of the sponsoring organizations if you would like to learn more about their other great work:
- Amah Mutsun Tribal Band
- Green Foothills
- Department of Anthropology and Social Change, California Institute of Integral Studies
- Silicon Valley Youth Climate Strike
- Center for Biological Diversity
- Greenbelt Alliance
- ACLU Foundation of Northern California
- Friends of Juristac
- South Bay Indigenous Solidarity
- First Unitarian Church of San Jose
- Social Sciences Department, Gavilan Community College
Follow-up actions you can take
We invite you to further your involvement with the campaign to protect Juristac. The following are follow-up steps you can take:
- Sign the Petition to Protect Juristac. If you have already signed, we challenge you to invite 5 other people to also sign the petition.
- Write a letter to the County of Santa Clara on behalf of yourself or your organization, expressing your opposition to the proposed mining project at Juristac. For County email addresses and instructions, visit the ‘How to Help’ page of the Protect Juristac website.
- Use the Teaching Juristac curriculum— If you are an educator, please check the Juristac curriculum and help us to reach out to other educators in the area.
- Pass a resolution at your school in support of Juristac. We have a toolkit with everything you will need. Please contact [email protected]
- Reach out to your church congregation or faith community about supporting the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band’s efforts to protect Juristac, the tribe’s most sacred spiritual site. Email [email protected] to request outreach resources or support.
- Contribute artwork to the campaign for Juristac! Email [email protected] for more information.
- Contact your local elected officials and ask them to support the preservation of Juristac. If you live in the Bay Area, help us pass a resolution through your town’s city council calling for the protection of Juristac, as Morgan Hill and Santa Cruz have done.
- Donate to support legal and campaign costs for Juristac.
- Follow and share posts from the Protect Juristac Instagram and Facebook page. Create your own posts tagging @protectjuristac.
We would love to hear any other creative ideas you may have for supporting and volunteering with the campaign to protect Juristac. You can work with us on upcoming events, host an event within your community, or just help spread the word on social media.
Mailing lists you can join
- Check the “subscribe” box when you sign the Protect Juristac petition, to be added to the Juristac campaign email list
- Sign up for the Green Foothills mailing list to receive updates and action alerts from Green Foothills regarding Juristac and other campaigns
- Sign up for the Amah Mutsun Land Trust mailing list to receive updates and action alerts from the Amah Mutsun regarding Juristac and other initiatives of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and Stewardship Corps.
- The Protect Medicine Lake campaign does not have an official email list, however you can “like” the Protect Medicine Lake Facebook page to receive future updates.
Learn more about the campaign to protect the Medicine Lake Highlands
- 9/25/19 Indian Country Today: Pit River Tribe and Indigenous nations proclaim victory in legal fight to protect the Medicine Lake Highlands
- 5/10/19 Last Real Indians: The struggle to protect and defend the sacred Sah Tit La (Obsidian Knife Lake)
- 10/5/18 Jefferson Public Radio: The Long Struggle Over Medicine Lake Highlands (18-minute audio segment)
- 4/25/16 Indian Country Today: Pit River Tribe Scores Court Victory in Battle for Medicine Lake
- 2/15/13 Pit River Tribe: Medicine Lake Highlands Resolution (PDF)
- 7/27/15 Al Jazeera: California’s drought and the battle for Medicine Lake
- 7/17/02 —LA Times: A Power Struggle: Electric vs. Spiritual—Electricity: Indian tribes hope to block construction of a geothermal plant they fear will drain healing force of Medicine Lake
- 3/5/01 SF Chronicle: Calpine’s Quest for Power / American Indians split over Bay Area supplier’s efforts to tap what some view as their own source of sacred, spiritual energy
- Sacred Land Film Project: Medicine Lake Highlands issue summary
- Mt Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center: Medicine Lake campaign summary
- 3/1/2014 Hydrological Report on the Risks to the Medicine Lake Volcano Aquifers Associated with Geothermal Development by Dr. Robert R. Curry
- Save Medicine Lake video (21 minutes, Mt Shasta Ecology Center)