Prayers of Protest: The Resistance for our Ancestors at the Knoll Burial Site

Tiny - Posted on 23 August 2011

Jasmine Syedullah/PNN Indigenous Peoples Media Project

(image courtesy of Bradley Stuart /

At today’s “Save the Knoll Ohlone Burial Site BBQ and Gathering” Charlene Sal, Director of the Confederation of Ohlone People, called out an amplified request, “All I ask is, for the sake of the ancestors, pay attention”. Her calm yet insistent voice rang as unshakable as a bell through a still circle of native and non-native people gathered on a cool Santa Cruz afternoon to save something sacred.

“If you don’t think you know me you do,” Charlene said. “Maybe its today that we’ll meet for the first time, and maybe we met a hundred years ago. It’s not for me to say. But what I do know for absolute sure is that the ancestors called us here today right now to reunite. What I do know is that they’re asking for your protection…”.

The language of calling always hits me somewhere rebellious in my preacher’s daughter knee-jerk rejection of all things divinized. But as I listened closer, what I heard her saying was that we were being called not just to this Grant Street Park, not just to this informal informational gathering for BBQ and brainstorming creative ways to stop KB Home, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Los Angeles, from disrespecting the Ohlone burial site and village by disrupting the dead and erecting a housing development on sacred Ohlone land. Charlene was asking us to pay attention to the fact that we were being called to a different way of activism, a different vision for protest. None of the nearly 50 people gathered on the green field of the sun soaked park appeared to be strangers to the brandishing of signs and chanting of slogans so familiar to the scene of workers strikes and antiwar rallies. These women were clearly inviting us to engage in still another kind of collective action.

“Our society is so absent of the sacred” elder Anne Marie Sayers explained, the closest identified relative of the small child whose body was unearthed by a development crew at the Branciforte Creek site on August 2nd. The disruption of more burial sites was planned to resume tomorrow, August 22, but has been delayed for now, for reasons unknown. The contract allowing KB Homes to continue with the housing project still has yet to be broken. Though the City of Santa Cruz knew of the presence of sacred land at this site they have permitted KB Homes to proceed. Though KB Homes knew of the presence of sacred land before they purchased it they have proceeded to demolish the site and uproot a native child from the land in order to build seven homes, a road and a driveway.

Ms. Anne Marie Sayers was asked by one of the lead organizers of the Save the Knoll Campaign to share with the group gathered there in support what the significance of the burial site is to her and her people.

“My mother believed that when the burial is disturbed the spirit of that individual is left wandering,” Ms. Sayers said. “She watched bulldozers go through Native American cemeteries in the 40s and 50s where there was no law in place, there was nothing that could be done outside of watch. Today there are some laws in place, but like the majority of native laws that are for native peoples they don’t have any teeth. So I say well let’s gum them to death then. I think we can do it. I really believe so and with the power of prayer, believe in prayer or not I do, it can’t go on!”

The elder’s energy was contagious. We were all paying more attention now and Charlene Sal added to the urgency of her message saying, “this space that we are talking about right now is just one of many examples of desecrations and there are so many more. But it takes all of us. The spirits don’t care how old we are, they don’t care what we look like. They don’t care about anything except our presence so that we can speak for them.”

Paying attention. Being Present. Protecting the past to preserve the future. Were we all already praying? No pews, no books, nor priests were needed and yet spirit was moving, calling us to protest differently, sensible simply because we were listening, paying attention to something sacred.

The development happening on Market and Isabel near Santa Cruz’s beautiful Market Street Field was approved by the City Council in 2007 despite “wide spread opposition from local residents, environmentalists, archeologists and historic preservationists”. (Save the Knoll flyer)The Save the Knoll campaign is growing but needs support to garner sufficient social pressure to make KB Homes realize that honoring sacred space should become part and parcel of their calculus for identifying when and where to develop new homes and build new communities out of an understanding of the priceless relationship of “progress” to healing the past.

To this end at the close of the Sunday afternoon gathering everyone was invited to contribute to the making of sacred prayer ties which Ms. Anne Marie offered to take up to the burial site Monday morning as a way to call the developers too to pay attention to a different kind of bottom line. As Ms. Anne Marie explained to me the red, white, black, and yellow cloth ties filled with sacred tobacco and prayers represent the four directions, the color of life. They are part of a practice of protest meant, “to remind them [the developers],” she said, “that our ancestors are here and these are prayers for our ancestors not to be destroyed anymore.”

Charlene Sal went on to explain, “So the one great wonderful things about having something physical that is a part of prayer to people who don’t really understand is that here is an actual thing made by real people who are supporting Ms. Anne Marie and the Ohlone people in this action, if you don’t believe in spirits that’s fine… To say, “the ancestors don’t appreciate this”, [the developers] may or may not believe that, but the prayer flags represent all the community who don’t appreciate this and that might make a difference!”

If you too are feeling called, please join in the urgent collective outcry and support  Ms. Anne Marie Sayers and the Ohlone People protect what’s sacred TODAY. The developers could resume their work as soon as Tuesday and the more time we can stall them the more time we will have to move KB Homes and the City of Santa Cruz into alignment with the people whose land this has been for 6,000 years. Please follow the links below and sign the petition, write a letter, come participate, but also never underestimate the precious and powerful practice of prayer.

Jasmine is a graduate of POOR Magazine's Race, Poverty and Media Justice Program and a special reporter to Indigenous Peoples Media Project on PoorNewsNetwork

What You Can Do:

   •    Spread the word.
    •    Sign and share our online petition.
    •    Call and email KB Home and City of Santa Cruz representatives to request that they take action to stop the desecration this ancient settlement and burial site. Please CC emails to [].
City of Santa Cruz 420-5020
Ryan Coonerty, Santa Cruz Mayor
(831) 420-5027(831)
Juliana Rebagliati – Director of Planning and Community Development 420-5103
KB Home South Bay:
KB Home Corporate Headquarters
10990 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Fax: 310.231.4222
KB Home Central:
    •    Donate money to our Emergency Defense Fund.
    •    Help maintain a presence in front of the construction site on each work day, holding signs and handing out flyers.
    •    Visit the land. It is located at the North end of Market Street in Santa Cruz, just after the Highway 1 overpass. The front gate is at the intersection of Market St. and Isbel Dr., and the official address of the property is 5 Isbel Dr., Santa Cruz, CA.
    •    Print out flyers/leaflets to give away. Print out blank petitions and collect signatures.
    •    Show your support by attending events, gatherings and demonstrations.
    •    Help us obtain letters & statements from neighbors, organizations, and political leaders, in support of protecting and preserving the Knoll.
    •    Offer your prayers for the land, for the ancestors who have been disturbed, and their families.
    •    Please email with questions, or to offer support.

It's all very well to talk about KB Homes being some kind of evil doer, but with all the people of color and migrants who do construction work and are unemployed right now, it seems like in this case it's not "the Man" that's keeping them down, but some native elders who think that the finding of one child's skeleton makes the land too sacred to finish building seven houses, a road and a driveway. That sounds like a lot of folks losing work in tough times.

so now you take the time to worry about people of color and migrants?! Too funny!!!!


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