Director Michelle Grace Steinberg met Corrina Gould and Johnella LaRose in August 2010, and began working with them via the Committee to Protect Glen Cove, which organized the 109-day occupation of Sogorea Te sacred site in Vallejo in 2011. More details about the incredible events of that period can be found at www.protectglencove.org. Following the occupation, Michelle made Buried Voices (2012), which discusses the East Bay Regional Park District’s development of an Ohlone sacred site called Brushy Peak. Seeking to address both the larger issue of injustices faced by non-federally recognized tribes and the inspiring personal story of women with a vision to transcend those legacies of colonization, Michelle and her co-producer Robyn Bykofsky embarked on Beyond Recognition in early 2013.
For years, Corrina and Johnella’s organization Indian People Organizing for Change (IPOC) has been bringing to light concerns in the Bay Area Native community- particularly the destruction of the 400 plus shellmounds (Ohlone sacred burial sites) that once existed in the region. They led awareness-raising walks to Bay Area shellmounds and demonstrations to protect sacred sites, and engaged in creative approaches to community education. They worked closely with Wounded Knee DeOcampo (Sacred Sites Protection & Rights of Indigenous Tribes- SSP&RIT) and many others struggling to save Indigenous sacred areas.
There are seven different Ohlone tribes, none of whom currently have federal recognition; their homelands extended from just North of the Bay Area (across the Carquinez Straight) as far South as Monterey. As a Chochenyo/Karkin Ohlone woman born and raised on her ancestral homeland of the Bay Area, Corrina has strived to create visibility for her culture. While her relatives in the Muwekma Ohlone tribe (also Chochenyo) are currently involved in a protracted struggle to gain federal recognition, Corrina has chosen to focus her life’s work on sacred site protection as a means to immediately address the threats to her ancestors’ burial places.
IPOC now embarks on a unique journey to create the first women-led, urban Indigenous land trust. Through the land trust, they hope to create a safe space for both reburial and cultural revitalization. In addition, they wish to support a growing awareness about the interconnectedness of people and the land that sustains them, such that Native and non-Native inhabitants of the Bay Area can begin healing the legacies of both colonization and environmental destruction. This message resonates throughout many Indigenous communities around the globe.
What does it mean to be from a non-federally recognized tribe?
The question of federal tribal recognition is consistently absent from media and public dialogues on Native peoples. Yet hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people across the nation belong to non-federally recognized tribes. Only in the United States and Canada is the onus on Native communities to prove their legitimacy to the very governments that colonized their lands. The U.S. denies non-federally recognized peoples the already insufficient health care, education, housing, and religious freedoms provided to their federally recognized counterparts; they are often paralyzed in the protection of their sacred lands and ancestral remains. The U.S. Federal Acknowledgement Process (FAP) is an arduous and expensive undertaking that lasts decades as a tribe must prove its ‘authenticity’ under criteria whose validity is currently under extreme scrutiny. While it appears that the FAP may soon be changing, it is unclear how this will actually impact tribes in practice.
California has more non-federally recognized tribes than any other state, since its unique layers of colonization stripped many Native people from their land bases and cultures. Starting with the Spanish mission system, subsequent eras of Mexican rule, state-wide indentured servitude under the U.S., and boarding schools that enforced assimilationist policies, Indigenous people who survived were often afraid to reveal their ethnicity. It is a testament to the extent to which genocidal practices succeeded in their goals that so many California tribes are unable to fulfill the requirements for the FAP and thereby lack the rights conferred upon acknowledged tribes.
As urban development exploded, Indigenous peoples in places like the Bay Area were further displaced and forgotten. This trend is not unique to California; it can be found in many large cities throughout the country. When relocation policies in the 1960’s brought an influx of Native individuals to urban areas and a pan-Indian culture exploded, it paradoxically compounded the invisibility of California tribes, particularly those without federal recognition.