Blog Post by Trelasa Baratta, Middletown Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians of California
The Redbud Media Team has officially kicked off our new film project- a docuseries project exploring successful land rematriation case studies across California. Our first project highlights the work of Matthew Sequoyah Williford, Lead Cultural Resources Monitor and Vice-Chairman of the Konkow Valley Band of Maidu Indians. Recently, Matthew's community entered into a lease-to-buy agreement with the land's owners. The agreement has transformed the tribe from a "landless" tribe, or a tribe without any official land holdings, to a tribe that has guaranteed access to their ancestral land.
The Konkow Valley Band of Maidu Indians are not federally recognized, but it is widely known that they are the original inhabitants of Konkow Valley, located near Oroville, CA. Ancestral maps, archeological data, and intergenerational cultural knowledge shows that Matthew’s ancestors have been the stewards of the land for millenia. As a leader in his community, Matt's life purpose is to preserve, protect, and restore the traditions, relationships, and sacred spaces that have been damaged by colonialism in the region.
To read more about the history of the Konkow Valley Band of Maidu Indians, check out American White Water's recent article, a part of their "California Rivers Through Native Eyes" series.
Interview with a Land Owner:
In recent months, Matthew secured a 10 acre parcel of land in the tribe’s traditional territory from Jason "Hap" Hathaway, the most recent owner of the Lake Concow Campground, an 80 acre parcel. At our film shoot, we asked Jason about his rationale behind giving 10 acres of land back to the Konkow. He recalled early memories of learning about the Gold Rush, Westward Expansion, and about cowboys and Indians, and always feeling like Native people's were gravely misrepresented. Jason credits his decision to partner with the Konkow to his lifelong interest in Native history, and to his ethical understanding that returning land is one of the most important ways to heal the violence of the past. He also noted his belief that other land-owning settlers have a responsibility to build relationships with local tribal communities, and to consider what land rematriation could look like for them. He hopes that this example can serve as a model for others who might be considering land rematriation in their own communities.
Protecting Cultural Resources
Matthew took us on an eye-opening tour of his people’s land and the significant cultural resources that they are trying so desperately to protect. For tribes, cultural resources are all things that have cultural purpose and value to the community, from willow for weaving, to ancestral foods like acorn, to animal relatives like salmon, and the habitats that these resources rely on. But they are also things like bedrock mortar holes, ancestral village sites, and cemeteries. As he put it, many of these resources are non-renewable, meaning once they are destroyed, they are gone forever. By gaining access to their land once again, the tribe has a better chance at protecting these sacred sites that are a key part of cultural revitalization and receiving federal recognition.
As many know, Butte County has been ravaged by fires in the last decade- the Camp Fire, North Complex Fire, and nearby Dixie Fire, to name a few . In the aftermath of these fires, sacred historical sites and cultural resources have been exposed to the elements, leading to the development of tribal cultural monitoring teams, or teams of tribal members with cultural knowledge, who are now tasked with documenting and protecting tribal history as clean up plans continue and housing redevelopment returns. Our first episode will divulge the ways that Konkow's cultural monitoring team has attempted to protect its resources, and will explore some of the conflicts that have arisen with various state agencies who lack the cultural competency needed to respectfully partner with the land's Native peoples.
We are still here. Native Americans are not icons of the past. We are living, breathing communities who are still standing up for Mother Earth, even after so much has been lost. To many, losing connections to one’s ancestors may be a trivial matter. For a Native person, though, connecting to our ancestry is everything. Matthew, and many other tribal leaders, are ideal examples of a steadfast dedication to keeping that connection. We do not ask that everyone understands our value systems, we ask that you stand with us, as Jason has, and listen to our voices, because we have many important things to say, and we will not stop fighting to protect our homelands.
Overall, our first production weekend was a great success! Shout out to everyone who helped make this weekend a memorable one: to the members of Konkow Valley Band of Maidu Indians who came out and helped us collect footage for the episode and took time to speak on important issues; to Lake Concow Campground for welcoming us and sharing with us your stories; to Gold Country Casino for the comfy beds, jacuzzi tubs, and winning slots; to Taylor’s mom for the amazing home cooked meal, Uncle Jimmy for the hilarious antidotes and to Lucky and Kim for the great company! Stay tuned for more on this vital work and the amplification of Native voice!
Special thanks to the Gramps family, Jason "Hap" Hathaway, Justin Acuña, and the entire Konkow Valley community.
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