Muwekma: Narratives, sovereignty and the politics of erasure | Michael V. Wilcox
Michael V. Wilcox (Senior Lecturer, Native American Studies, CCSRE)
The Muwekma Ohlone tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area is currently involved in what may be the largest repatriation in US history. The development of North American Anthropology and the specific ethnography of California native peoples undertaken by Alfred Kroeber and his students, set the stage for the cultural erasure and marginalization of bay area California natives. The foundation of the department of Anthropologie and the Hearst museum at UC Berkeley was accomplished through a donation from Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Her interests in establishing this museum was directly related to her purchase of a ranch just east of Berkeley called Alisal in a village known as Indian Town. Alisal was a safe haven and refuge for the descendent populations from the three major missions at San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Jose. Having survived a period of organized extermination, the tribe was directly involved in the construction of a mansion known as Verona. The "Verona band of mission Indians" helped inspire and physically construct the dwelling of the Hearst fortune. The irony is that the institution she would found to expand knowledge about native Americans would develop theories of erasure and marginalization that persist for Bay Area natives to this day. After Kroeber pronounced the tribe extinct in 1925, the Verona band continued to advocate for the protection of sacred sites, the protection of ancestral shell mounds and the persistence of their communities.
Having been acknowledged but not federally recognized formally the Muwekma Ohlone tribe exemplify the spaces of many California natives. As Land Acknowlwdgements provide new attention, visibility and institutional recognition, questions are once again being raised about the processes of erasure, and the role of anthropology in this process. Contemporary researchers can serve as allies and advocates and reversing the terminal narratives of anthropology. The establishment of land trusts and extra federal forms of sovereign community organization offer both promise and an opportunity for the research of reconciliation and thoughtful advocacy.