Living On Ohlone Land: A Panel Discussion by California Women Tribal Leaders


Published August 10, 2017

OAKLAND – Approximately 500 people gathered together at the First Congregational Church of Oakland to hear a panel discussion entitled, “Living on Ohlone Land.”  Four California tribal leaders, all women, discussed how non-native organizations can build reciprocity with local indigenous communities. The event was created by the group IPOC or Indian People Organizing for Change.

Panelists included Corrina Gould (representing the Confederated villages of Lisjan/Ohlone), Ruth Orta (Him’re-n Ohlone, Bay Miwok, and Plains Miwok), Ann Marie Sayers (Mutsun Ohlone), and Chief Caleen Sisk (Winnemem Wintu). The moderator for the panel discussion was Desirae Harp (Mishewal Wappo, Dine).

These four women tribal leaders are currently directing several important events and organizations.

Ruth Orta is the leader and matriarch of her tribe. She was born and raised in Newark Ca. worked for Santa Clara light Rail until she retired at the age of 72. Ruth has 67 people in her immediate family, including grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. She grew up always knowing she was Native and is proud to continue to learn more each day. Ruth and her tribe support no-development on the sacred shell mound and village site in West Berkeley.

Corrina Gould co-created and leads Indian People Organizing for Change, a grass roots, community based group whose members include Ohlone tribal people and environmental activists. Their members work toward social and environmental justice for the Bay Area Indian community. Currently IPOC is fighting to protect the West Berkeley Shellmound from commercial development.

Ann Marie Sayers is the Chairwoman of Indian Canyon, the only federally recognized land base between Sonoma County and Santa Barbara, California, and has been sacred land and home for Ohlone/Costanoan people for thousands of years.

Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu tribe has organized the Run4Salmon, now in its second year. Run4Salmon is a prayerful combination walk/run/bicycle/canoe journey beginning in the East bay area traveling north to Mt. Shasta. The purpose of the run is to restore the salmon runs, protect the sacred waters, and protect and renew indigenous lifeways.

Corrina Gould and others also created the Sogorea Te Land Trust, an urban, indigenous woman-led community organization that works toward the return of Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone lands in the San Francisco Bay area to indigenous stewardship. They have created a voluntary, annual tax or “shuumi” (‘to give’, in the Chochenyo language) for non-native residents of Chochenyo and Karkin (greater East bay area).  

Before opening with prayer and song, some protocol or proper rules of behavior were explained. Corrina Gould told attendees how it is rude and insulting to take pictures of an indigenous person without first getting permission. When prayers are offered it is always forbidden to take photos or use recording devices.
An opening prayer and songs were offered before Chief Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu tribe gave an offering gift to Corrina Gould expressing gratitude as a guest in Ohlone territory. A guest is an important designation because of specific rules and protocol that any guest should follow out of manners and courtesy. We are all guests on Mother Earth and should act accordingly.

Pua Case, protector of Sacred Mountain Mauna Kea in Hawaii, also gave an offering and expressed her gratitude and humility to the Ohlone people for allowing her on their land.

One of the many problems indigenous leaders face is the relationship with non-native organizers of various events. Often there is little or no understanding about the rules involved when non-native people want to include native leaders.

“People ask us to come and offer an opening prayer at their various events, but don’t ask who we are, or ask us how we are doing. Many times we are not even invited to participate in the event. They fail to understand or acknowledge how hard it has been to even get to the table,” said Gould.

“Many non-native organizations want to tell us how to do things, especially when they are involved in our projects. This is not right. For example, when I travel north to help with the Run4Salmon, my role is not to advise or tell Chief Sisk what to do. My job is to take direction from her-to do whatever it is that she needs me to do. It comes down to learning how to be a guest on someone else’s land. In the old ways, if someone came into Ohlone territory, they would light a fire on the edge, and wait to be asked to come on our land. When invited in, there might be dancing, sharing of food, gift exchanges. We would spend time getting to know someone before finding out why they came to visit or what they wanted. These protocols are still important,” continued Gould.

Chief Caleen Sisk stressed the importance of the reality that currently over 90 percent of California Indians are not federally recognized. “As a result, not all federal laws pertain to us equally. We have lost the important native protocol of helping each other. For example, there was a concept of cooperation and a knowledge of the eco-system, so that if one tribe happened upon a pool filled with salmon, we didn’t just take them all to have a big feast. We knew what would happen if these salmon didn’t make it back up to their spawning ground. So we picked them up and carried them further up stream, so there would be more salmon for all of the tribes on that river next year. Today we are in the process of re-building what we have lost as tribal peoples,” stated Chief Sisk.

For those who want more information, or participate contact:   and or  To learn more about the land trust visit:  

Nanette Bradley Deetz and Arthur Jacobs

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