The Reawakening of Sogorea Te’
The name of our Land Trust is inspired by a sacred place and a sacred struggle to protect that place from desecration. In 1999, a campaign started in Vallejo to stop plans for a construction project that threatened Sogorea Te’, a 3,500 year old Karkin Ohlone village and burial site located at Glen Cove.
Wounded Knee DeOcampo, a Tuolumne Miwok elder, was organizing with the local Indigneous community to halt the City of Vallejo’s plans to redevelop the grounds of Sogorea Te’ into a recreational public park. The development would pave over parts of the Shellmound, further harming the ancestors buried there, remove native trees to improve the view for nearby condos, and increase visitors’ impact on the sacred site. Corrina Gould, Johnella LaRose, and their newly formed organization Indian People Organizing for Change began collaborating with DeOcampo and supporting the ongoing effort to protect Sogorea Te’. For twelve years, Indigenous organizers attended city council meetings, met with recreation district officials, held demonstrations and prayer walks, and submitted their objections during the environmental review process for the proposed park. Dismissing the requests of the Native community, the city pressed forward with their plans.
After learning that the City of Vallejo’s grading permits would finally become valid on April 14th, 2011, Gould, LaRose, DeOcampo and other community organizers realized they’d run out of options for protecting the ancestors. After consulting with elders, a decision emerged clearly: the time had come to make a stand. On the morning of April 14th, over a hundred people gathered at Sogorea Te’— an elder lit a sacred fire, an altar was established, and the spiritual encampment to protect Sogorea Te’ began. A community of protectors stood vigil together, tending the sacred fire continuously for 109 days and nights.
“They want to desecrate the site. They say they went through the legal process and it’s been done correctly. We’re saying, no, it’s not good enough. We’re standing up for our ancestors. We’re not going to allow them to continue to do this. We’re not going to allow them to continue to unbury our ancestors and put them wherever they feel like it, in lockers, in storage places. That’s not how it’s gonna be anymore.”Corrina Gould, Spokesperson for the Confederated Villages of Lisjan
The village of Sogorea Te’ was, in a sense, reawakened. Thousands of people visited the spiritual encampment to pay their respects, to bring supplies and support, to offer songs, stories, dances and ceremonies, and lay their prayers on the fire. Many stayed for weeks or months. The amount of support the camp received from other California tribes and from Indigenous people internationally was breathtaking.
For many urban Indians from the Bay Area who took part, this was their first experience of living directly on the land—camped together within a village and community bound by a common spiritual purpose. Every person had a valuable role to play. The space that was created was deeply healing and the ancestors’ voices were listened to. “We went to save the land at Sogorea Te’, but really, the land saved us,” camp organizer Johnella LaRose reflected. “We didn’t truly understand we needed the land so much until then.”
The spiritual encampment ended after a cultural easement and memorandum was signed between federally recognized Patwin/Wintu tribes, the City of Vallejo and the Greater Vallejo Park District, which promised to ensure the protection of the site. Though Sogorea Te’ is Karkin Ohlone territory, Ohlone people are not federally recognized and could not themselves be a party to the easement. Appallingly, in 2012, promises were vacated and agreements violated, as the recreation district proceeded to build a parking lot and grade a section of the land that likely contained cremated remains. Patwin/Wintu tribal monitors were complicit in allowing this to occur. This unfortunate decay of trust however was composted into fertile ground. A large ceremonial gathering was subsequently held at the site in mourning and protest and soon new seeds were sown on that sacred land.
Transformed by the experience of living in community on the Sogorea Te’ village site and inspired by a powerful vision of rematriation all across the Bay Area, Corrina and Johnella founded the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust in 2015. And the work continues…