“Strategies for Tribal Allyship and Coalitions”: Highlighting the Protect Juristac Coalition

On Thursday, May 26, the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits hosted a webinar to explore how nonprofits and agencies can better act in solidarity with tribes, make land acknowledgements, create a shared leadership model, and keep up momentum over time. Called “Strategies for Tribal Allyship and Coalitions: Highlighting the Protect Juristac Coalition”, the webinar’s purpose was to garner support from the local nonprofit community for the Protect Juristac effort.

The Protect Juristac coalition is working to save Juristac, the sacred lands of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band in southern Santa Clara County. The Debt Acquisition Company of America wants to destroy this beautiful place by using it for a sand-and-gravel pit mining operation. Please sign the Protect Juristac Petition and ask your community organization or agency to take an official position today (email [email protected]).

You can find the full recording of the webinar here.

Nick Kuwada, Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits Policy Director

Nick Kuwada kicked off the event with a land acknowledgement and encouraged people to learn about the tribal land they are living on, recognizing that maps might be insufficient.

Key Takeaway from Nick Kuwada:

  • Learn more about the tribes and Indigenous people where you live and work. Reach out to tribes to find out how to best support them.

Valentin Lopez, Amah Mutsun Tribal Band Chairman

Chairman Lopez then spoke about the history of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. The tribe is composed of the descendants of the people taken to Mission San Juan Bautista and Mission Santa Cruz. Their ancestors were land stewards and took care of all living things year round in what is today southern Santa Clara County, Santa Cruz County, Monterey County, and San Benito County.

Located in the hillsides southwest of Gilroy, Juristac is the most sacred site of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, who have held ceremonies there for thousands of years. Chairman Lopez said of the ceremonies held there, “Big Head dances are the most important to the Amah Mutsun. They are held throughout many tribal nations.” When colonists from Spain came in the 1700s, they were violently forced off of their lands, including off of Juristac, into indentured servitude. They have been fighting to protect their culture and return to their homelands ever since.

“It wasn’t until the 1980s when we felt safe enough to come back together to restore our culture and let the public know who we are,” said Chairman Lopez. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act does not protect the Amah Mutsun’s right to practice their spirituality at Juristac because they are not a recognized tribe. This is why they are asking the public to help as they work to return to their ancestral territory.

Today, the Debt Acquisition Company of America owns 6,400 acres at Juristac and wants to get permits from the County of Santa Clara to build a sand and gravel mine there, permanently destroying this landscape. The Amah Mutsun formed the Protect Juristac Coalition to organize community members in the campaign to protect this site.

“Our work is not done. It is just beginning. It will take us hundreds of years of repair and healing to recover from hundreds of years of destruction… [and] bring back biodiversity, clean water, bring back the species, and the native plants,” Chairman Lopez said.

Key Takeaways from Chairman Lopez:

  • Land acknowledgements “can’t just be words. They have to tell the truth about the history and have meaning. Learn the truth and history and insist that this be told.”
  • Indigenous and Nonindigenous peoples need to recognize the importance of healing and work to heal themselves.

Alexii Sigona (Amah Mutsun-Ohlone), Amah Mutsun Land Trust Lands Committee Co-Chair

Next, Alexii Sigona, a younger Amah Mutsun Tribe member, spoke about what Juristac means to him. “Juristac is a place that holds powers. Where time stops. Indigenous people have unique connections to land. It’s not recreation where we can go hiking… It is a relative and not a resource to be used… It’s a source of sustenance.”

He then offered a look into what cultural gathering looks like for him. “It involves locating a healthy patch of medicine. I leave an offering of tobacco, water, or hair…think about my ancestors who did the same thing in these hills and the Amah Mutsun members who are not able to access the land today,” he said.

Key Takeaways from Alexii Sigona:

  • Educate yourself and your organization about Indigenous People’s history
  • Build long-term relationships
  • Follow Tribal leadership regarding their lands and culture
  • Partnership means truly listening and willing to be changed through relationships
  • Don’t do the following: 1) Assume Tribal capacity, 2) Use your association with Tribes in a self-promotional manner 3) Push tribe into preset agenda/plan and nonprofit structure, 4) See yourself as a savior.

Tedde Simon (Navajo), ACLU of Northern California Advocate for the Racial & Economic Justice Program

Tedde opened up her talk touching on why the ACLU is working on Indigenous Justice. “Indigenous people are almost always left out of national conversation, including those about social justice and civil liberties,” she said. She noted how little people know and speak about the history of tribes in California. “We are often starting from the beginning, sharing the awful history of California tribes. Every time we speak we reach back 500 years to the mission systems, genocide, and forced removal.”

“Strategies for Tribal Allyship and Coalitions” from Tedde Simon:

  • If you aren’t doing Indigenous justice work, you shouldn’t do a land acknowledgement.
  • The approach is just as important as the goal. It’s about lending our power to Indigenous justice work when it is invited and helpful. We move at the pace of relationships. It’s not about quick wins or grabbing stories but learning and having humility as we go.

Megan Fluke headshotMegan Fluke, Green Foothills Executive Director

I spoke to the history of Green Foothills’ work on the Protect Juristac effort: “We are working to protect Juristac with acknowledgement and respect that the Amah Mutsun have a sacred relationship with the land…While protecting Juristac is central to our mission as a nonprofit, it is as sacred as family to the Amah Mutsun and we must follow their leadership.” I also shared a bit of the history of our Indigenous partnership work, highlighting the lessons learned about the importance of being learners and adding capacity that is welcome from tribes.

I shared a bit about the Protect Juristac Coalition, formed in 2019. The coalition is led by the Amah Mutsun Tribe in coordination with Green Foothills, with over 25 members and 80 individuals ranging from small community-based organizations and faith-based groups, to regional and national nonprofits. Everyone plays a vital and appreciated role in the campaign.

I didn’t get the chance to cover two slides featuring quotes from members of the Protect Juristac Coalition:

“The Protect Juristac Coalition provides connection, strategies, and the sense of so many rallying for the Amah Mutsun to save this precious land of Juristac.”
-Colleen Cabot, First Unitarian Church of San José

“It has been so powerful to see our many organizations’ efforts synergize and grow while still maintaining a shared, unified message and strategy in support of the Tribe.
-Emma Hartung, SURJ @ Sacred Heart and South Bay Indigenous Solidarity

I closed with a slide about how Green Foothills benefits from Indigenous partnership work:

  • Aligns with our mission. More likely to accomplish our 2062 vision, which includes language stating, “Local Indigenous tribes and peoples are partners in restoring these landscapes…” (approved by Muwekma and Amah Mutsun leadership)
  • More external partners and internal stakeholders who represent Indigenous experience to accomplish the goals of our advocacy and leadership programs
  • Community trust. Non-Indigenous people and groups are listening to and following the leadership of Indigenous people. Our allyship with tribes increases our relevance in the community
    Funding for this work

Key Takeaway from Megan Fluke:

  • Nonprofits and organizations need to be clear how they are benefiting from their Indigenous justice work.
  • Always center the Tribe.The Tribe should have the final say on decisions.
  • Tips for Keeping Momentum over time
    • Hold regular meetings to bring the community together and foster a sense of belonging. Make space for general group updates in agendas. Promote activities that everyone can support.
    • Meetings are well run: outcome-oriented agendas developed/sent in advance, there is space for everyone to give input, minutes are taken, off topic conversations are managed.

The event closed with a discussion among the panelists and a reminder from Chairman Lopez that nonprofits and agencies need to recognize that tribes are sovereign nations, not “groups” or similar to nonprofits. Their leadership should be followed and their voices and direction should be centered in the work

Thank you to the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits and all event attendees for creating space for the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, the American Civil Liberties Union, Green Foothills, and the Protect Juristac Coalition. To support this effort, please sign the Protect Juristac Petition.

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