The Huichun band of the Ohlone people have lived in West Contra Cost County for 5,000-20,000 years. According to this article by Michael Raccoon Eyes Kinney, "the Huchiun used the El Sobrante site of Garrity Creek as a seasonal village for hunting herds of tule elk, pronghorn antelope and black tail deer and also for seed gathering and harvesting. The Huchiun homeland was high in the western hills of West Contra Costa County. It was a great stretch of high, rolling grassy hills clothed in a sweep of prairie-type grasses and endless fields of wildflowers. For the Huchiun, the important features were in the forests following the creeks and rivers down from the canyons in the high hill country and across the grassland savannahs to the San Pablo Bay. Here the coast redwood, buckeye, coast and live oak, big leaf maple, madrone and manzanita trees formed thousands of acres of forest that shadowed the Bay shoreline of West Contra Costa.
The Garrity Creek site in El Sobrante played an important role in the life of the Huichun people whose village sat upon the banks of the Wildcat Canyon Creek. Ohlone Native-American archaeologist Andrew Galvan estimates that around the time of the Fages and Crespi expeditions in 1769 there were some 10,000 Huchiun in the East Bay. These indigenous people lived hunting and gathering lifestyles in tribelets of 250 or less. They lived in seasonal villages, migrating from the shores of San Pablo Bay to the inland canyons along Garrity, Rheem, San Pablo and Wildcat Canyon Creeks on a annual cycle for thousands upon thousands of years.
The Huchiun seasonally followed the harvesting locations of their food, abandoning winter villages during gathering and hunting periods. Garrity Creek was highly prized because it offered the basic sustenance of acorns from tanbark, valley, coast and live oak trees, as well as buckeye trees. They also harvested seeds, berries, greens, nuts and roots at the site location. They would venture down Garrity Creek to fish for steelhead, salmon and sturgeon that swam up Garrity Creek to spawn.
The Huchiun hunting at the El Sobrante site did not reduce the native animal populations. However, there were significant results when the Huchiun made seasonal summer camps such as Garrity Creek location. Each fall they would set fire to the dry hillocks and hills. This kept the brush from overtaking the meadowlands, giving good growth to seed harvest and ensuring plentiful grazing for large game animals like tule elk, pronghorn antelope and black tail deer. This created an ideal setting for excellent hunting conditions for the Huchiun at the Garrity Creek site. It also encouraged oak and pine nut seed germination, which germinate best after a controlled fire, and prevented a build up of fuel that could create a major firestorm.
Colonization and Genocide
The Ohlone people, and this land, thrived for many thousands of years before the Spanish missionaries/colonizers arrived in 1769. In 1776, the San Francisco Mission was completed. Between November 1794 and May 1795, the entire population of the Huichun people in the East Bay -- men, women, children, and elders -- were forcibly removed from their ancestral land and villages and sentenced for life to hard labor at Mission San Francisco. Between 1769 and 1833, 81,000 Ohlone people were baptized at Mission San Francisco, and 60,000 people were killed and buried there in a mass grave. Their lives were taken by colonial, state-sponsored violence; biological warfare (smallpox, measles, and other European diseases); land theft, and forced labor/internment at Mission San Francisco.
Today, descendants of the Ohlone people are fighting for their cultural survival, land, sovereignty, and the survival of their language, ceremony, and land-use knowledges. Indian People Organizing for Change (IPOC) is a community-based organization made up of Ohlone tribal members and conservation activists who work together in order to accomplish social and environmental justice within the Bay Area American Indian community. Current projects include the preservation of Bay Area shellmounds, which are the sacred burial sites of the Ohlone Nation, with a urgent current fight to Save the West Berkeley Shellmound. Please join in supporting this work!
Meanwhile, Sogorea Te' Land Trust, an Urban, Women, Indigenous-led land trust, is working to facilitate the return of Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone lands in the San Francisco Bay Area to Indigenous stewardship. Sogorea Te creates opportunities for all people living in Ohlone territory to work together to re-envision the Bay Area community and what it means to live on Ohlone land. Guided by the belief that land is the foundation that can bring us together, Sogorea Te calls on us all to heal from the legacies of colonialism and genocide, to remember different ways of living, and to do the work that our ancestors and future generations are calling us to do.
These ten acres in El Sobrante have undergone many transformations; wild salmon breeding ground, notive populations fishing territory, ranch land, orchard, and more.
Our vision and plan for this land will actually be restoring it to one of it's former incarnations as an orchard. In the 1940s and 1950s, this space was largely dedicated to fruit production. A windmill-powered pump once pushed water from a spring to a cistern atop the hill, where it was used irrigate the fruit trees. We will use similar methods to gravity-feed water to our trees from the restored hilltop cistern.