Sogorea Te is Ours Collectively: An Open Letter from Corrina Gould


Tiny - Posted on 18 April 2012

Author: 
Corrina Gould/Special to PNN Indigenous Peoples Media Project

Dear Warriors, Supporters and Friends of Sogorea Te,
I want to first start this letter by thanking each one of you for your support to protect and preserve Sogorea Te, a sacred site that has been in what is now Vallejo, CA for over 3500 years.  During our occupation of the land from April through July of last year, you were all instrumental in putting aside your lives, giving of yourselves unselfishly and participating in creating a living community that really allowed us to all not only protect a sacred site, but to also see what is possible for humans when they come together and rely on one another, centered around a basis of spirituality and the belief in one another.  Each time someone walked onto that land and paid respects to the fire it strengthened the community as a whole.  The miracle was not in just protecting the site, but in protecting each other and allowing the space to include almost anyone that came with a good heart and good intentions.  

Over the months that we lived together, we endured weather hardships, boredom, laughter, tears, celebrations and disappointments.  We created bonds that we will have forever, sometimes with people we would have never imagined being in our lives before Sogorea Te.  We were truly blessed by the ancestors, because we took a stand and because we opened our hearts and allowed a healing to happen.  No one and nothing can take away these gifts.  Our lives have been transformed and we can never be the same, nor should we want to be.  We were all a part of something more than history; we were a part of a miracle, a complete transformation.  When that sacred fire that burned for 109 days finally went out in the physical sense, it continued to burn in each of us individually.  When we come together our shared experience rekindles those flames and reminds us that we are human beings with a purpose.


Over the last few months, people have posted pictures on Face Book, have written things about Sogorea Te and have generally tried to stir up people that hold this sacred land close to their hearts.  We have tried to look into each thing as it has arisen and want to be transparent with everyone that involved their time and lives in this sacred place.  Some of the ‘Committee’ went to Sogorea Te when the land was beginning to be transformed; some of us, including myself only really saw it in October when we were able to end a Sacred Walk there.  Let us not mince words… The sight of our beloved land was devastating.  We knew when we crossed that gate on July 31st that when we came back, Sogorea Te would never look the same.  But what we saw was nothing short of getting kicked in the gut.  It literally took my breath away.  We mourn what once was.  We celebrated a victory and looking at the land now… Makes the victory taste bitter in my mouth.  Of all of the things that GVRD wanted to do with the land, we only asked three things: that they not build bathrooms on the sacred site, not include a 15-car parking lot on the sacred site, and not grade a hill that there are burials/cremations in.  These are for the most part what we won.  They are not going to build a bathroom, the parking lot is going to be moved and only allow for two handicap parking places, but the grading happened.  We knew that they were going to take out the invasive species of plants and tear down the mansion and, yes, even put in trails.  

When I went there several weeks ago, what I saw was that the entire site had been molested.  The creek is virtually exposed, all the trees had been cut down and, yes, the grading has occurred.  We talked to tribal monitors and other tribal representatives, who appreciate the assistance that we gave in getting the ‘Cultural Easement’, but they blatantly stated that they don’t have to answer to anyone.  What they did say while walking me around the site is that they did not find any cultural artifacts or remains and that the hill was “fill”.  As I walked along the area where the hill once stood, I looked for anything that would stop them from continuing to do the destruction, but couldn’t find even a shell.  What the Tribes told us was that they would preemptively use specialized canine’s trained to find ancient burials or hand screen the area, but that didn’t occur.  The fact is that there were many cremations and that the land had already been moved before and it was going to be impossible to find remnants, especially after they had already removed 5ft of the hill.  Frustrating was the fact that they didn’t have any answers.  When was the project going to be finished?  “I don’t know.”  Why did they take out native plants and still leave some of the invasive?  “I don’t know.”  Will the tribe make a statement or have a public meeting to let people that supported the tribe in obtaining a cultural easement know what is happening to the land?  “No.  We don’t have to answer to anyone.”  The other fact is that a tribal sovereign government is still a government.  It is also a fact that this same tribal government has allowed desecration before Sogorea Te and continues to make concessions to other developers at different burial sites.  
 

The story of Sogorea Te is ours collectively.  We each make up a part of the history that was a miracle.  It is our voices that need to reach out to everyone.  We stood up and lead a good fight.  We protected a sacred site and in at the same time we protected ourselves and each other.  We each became better human beings because of this experience.  We each brought to Sogorea Te our best and left a little better.  We all continue to mourn not just the loss of parts of the Sacred Site, but also the community we created and left behind.  Human beings need to be needed and for some this sacred place gave us a place to belong, a place that we each had worth, and a place where prayers are answered.  Our ancestors continue to bless us in so many ways.  I am eternally grateful to each person, elder, adult, youth and child.  Grateful to the plants, animals, elements, and medicine that was shared.  Grateful for all of the lessons learned and that I continue to learn from this experience.  I am Grateful to the Creator and the ancestors for allowing me to have such wonderful people cross my life path and for the continued journey that they have in store for us as we continue to be inspired by one another and look forward to that community that we all know is possible.

I have seen the postings by several leaders of the movement to save the Sogorea Te site.
1.I have yet to know if the site changes "improvements' work was watched or supervised by anyone other than the developers. Looks like a problem here.
2. There have been several negative comments about Cache Creek Casino--not one comment about what they did wrong (or right). I find it hard to believe that the Cache Creek tribal group would sanction any such things as have been reported.
3. So what happened--to the tribal group and to the site ?

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