My Month of Written Devotion is for the Spirit of the Santa Clara Valley
The wrongs that have been paid to me through my Lady were not Hers to prevent, so I can not blame Her for them. I will speak of my Lady’s faults another time.
Whatever wrongs have been paid to my Lady through me were unintentional, and if She blames me for any ill, She has never given me reason to feel guilt or shame for it.
The wrongs that have been paid to my Lady by others are tragic and irreversible, but She seems surprisingly at peace with them for the most part.
On the contrary, She seems to embrace all who come to Her. And it is a very wide range indeed of people – ethnicities, cultures, languages, and traditions – which come to the nine counties around the San Francisco Bay. Not only is our area extremely diverse in the human sense, it’s also an area dense with mixed micro-climates and biodiversity. Everything about my Lady and Her kindred land spirits embraces diversity, and always has. Before the Europeans came, California was one of the richest linguistic regions in the world.
But some of those She has so generously welcomed have done great harm to so many others, it’s hard not to feel despair and wonder if our presence has been worth it. The people who lived here before the Missions were built molded their lives around the ways of the land, the incredible plenty that made this a living paradise. What European greed viewed as underdeveloped land was land that provided for all those who lived here already, between the various herbs and vegetables, animals, and acorn harvests that provided enough food for two years at a time.
What have we done since with this most fertile of lands? First we homogenized it into single-crop fields and orchards, allowing the still-wild and fallow lands to be overrun with invasive grasses, and then we paved it over, our property values too high to allow even mere farming, much less the “wasted” use of harvesting its natural resources in a sustainable manner.
I can’t say how conscious of their greed and bigotry the European colonizers were when they described Indigenous Californians as “without knowledge, religion or morals, even in their most elementary forms” on the grounds that their lives did not resemble European industry, but that’s not even close to the worst of it:
“The attacking party rushed upon them, blowing out their brains and splitting their heads open with tomahawks. Little children in baskets, and even babes, had their heads smashed to pieces or cut open. Mothers and infants shared the same phenomenon…. Many of the fugitives were chased or shot as they ran…. The children, scarcely able to run, toddled toward the squaws for protection, crying with fright, but were overtaken, slaughtered like wild animals and thrown into piles.”
– Alta Californian newspaper, 1860
[T]he missions were coercive religious, forced labor camps. Through bribes, military intimidation, and the eventual onslaught of European diseases (that usually targeted children), the colonizers ensured that eventually sick and desperate indians would come to the missions for help… The death rate at the missions was appalling. By 1818 the percentage of Indians who died in the missions reached 86 percent.
[In 1840] a hoard of 100,000 adventurers, gold-seekers, and murderous thugs descended on California.
[In] 1850, the California government passed the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians. This law allowed for any white settler to enslave an indian child with the permission of the parents, or if the child was orphaned. The law was later expanded to include indian adults.
The government paid about $1.1 Million in 1852 to militias to hunt down and kill indians. In 1857 the California legislature allocated another $410,000 for the same purposes. In 1856 the state of California paid 25 cents for each indian scalp. In 1860 the bounty was increased to $5.
The number of massacres are too numerous to list here…
In 1853 the U.S. Senate began negotiating with the indians to set up reservations. The indian tribes gladly agreed to give up millions of acres of land just to have the promise of military protection from the genocide that raged. The indians began moving to the reservation areas in anticipation.
However, the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaties. Instead the indians were rounded up at gunpoint to “a system of military posts”. Indians on these “reservations” were hired out to work naked as pack animals.
By the mid-1860’s only 34,000 indians remained alive in California, a 90% attrition rate…
After being conveniently labelled “extinct”, the native peoples of the San Francisco Bay Area – the Miwok and Ohlone – are still fighting to recover and preserve what they can of their history, language, culture, and some amount of their lands, to gain proper federal recognition. Basically, the only reason the Ohlone weren’t included in much of the Federal government’s hideous eugenics policies in the mid 1900’s is that their entire existence had already been effectively erased from any public acknowledgement anyway.
But these wrongs are not mine to forgive.
There is little I can do about these atrocities now, except help make sure they are not forgotten, and that the descendants of the survivors are given the respect so long overdue.