California’s Central Coast is an abundant place, flush with biodiversity and a vibrant human community. Over millennia, this socio-ecological richness was cultivated in part by the human hand, producing a dazzling array of heterogeneity and vegetative texture, sown by intention, and facilitated by the stability of climatic conditions. And yet, the complexity of our environment is unraveling; the stability of our climate wobbling, and the threads tying together community loosening their stitch. The generational commitments to our ecological community have been eroded; the stewardship of responsibility largely forgotten. With the erasure of thousands of Indigenous people, be it through callous indifference or outright genocide, vast knowledge and cultural wealth has been eviscerated on the Central Coast. The cascading effects of these atrocities remain stained on a landscape begging for revitalization and renewed leadership from voices silenced in our past.
Indigenous knowledge has long known the critical importance of a healthy human-land pathway, a reciprocal relationship of respect, rejuvenation and reverence. This knowledge is only just resurfacing in western minds, often measured in ecosystem services, in regenerative agriculture, in the land ethic. Settler communities remain pioneers in a landscape built by indigenous sculptors, by peoples in-tune to thousands of years of listening to the mountain and sea. As we partake in the recordation of our Earth’s 6th mass extinction event; as we watch the extinction of languages, and cultures, in California and across the world; as our society grapples with its painful history of violent occupation and injustice, perhaps too it is time to start listening to the mountain and sea as well. As an emerging landscape-based partnership of people, let the California Central Coast Joint Venture embark on a journey of conservation that is reflective, inclusive, reciprocal, and restorative.
What are known today as San Mateo, San Benito, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara Counties – these remain the traditional homelands of Indigenous Chumash, Hokan and Penutian Linguistic groups. Representing the Hokan and Chumash root languages, the Salinan, Esselen, and Chumash Nations continue to occupy the C3JV region composed of numerous bands spanning from Big Sur south past Point Conception. With Penutian roots, the territories of the inland Yokuts and the coastal Ohlone Costanoan Nations make up the remainder of the C3JV realm. For those of us who are ‘new’ to this land, we continue to occupy the sacred homelands of these First peoples, irrespective of the jurisdictions recognized today.
Perhaps the first step in reconciliation, besides simply acknowledging the occupation of traditional Indigenous territory, is admitting the harm done. The United States of America wounded the Indigenous peoples of North America; the Spanish Crown wounded the Indigenous Peoples of North America; the Territory and State of California wounded the Indigenous Peoples of North America; and in my absence as a voice of change, I individually continue to wound the Indigenous Peoples of North America.
In our small efforts to engage meaningfully with Tribes, perhaps we can start to embark on a path of allyship. With systems that continue to sever Indigenous people from their homelands, the socio-ecological systems of the Central Coast suffer from this disconnection. And yet, we are fortunate that Indigenous stewards thrive, as do the stories, and knowledge awakening in our midst. I would like to see the C3JV commit to reaching out in culturally appropriate ways to representatives of the Chumash, Salinan, Yokut, Ohlone Costanoan Esselen and other neighboring Nations with the intentions of: 1) Embracing, as opposed to incorporating, and protecting Indigenous and Traditional Knowledge Systems; 2) Offering a culturally intelligent space in pursuit of environmental and social justice; 3) Empowering Indigenous land stewards with an open invitation to guide our work; and 4) Championing efforts that strengthen the sovereignty and self-determination of California’s Indigenous people and communities. In short, while we as the C3JV today represent a regional conservation partnership, we strive, with humility, to become an international partnership on California’s Central Coast.