Amah Mutsun Native Americans Partner with Feds on Land Deal

Striking a traditional wooden percussion instrument with his palm, Valentin Lopez sings his Native American tribe’s prayer during a ceremony at the Coast Dairies property as people gathered around. He sings alone, in a voice strong and forlorn, using the ancient words of the Amah Mutsun.

The Amah Mutsun dwelled in the expansive stretch of land nestled by the ocean and the grass-covered western slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with Año Nuevo State Park bordering to the north and the Salinas River to the south.

Lopez is president of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, made up of the descendants of the ancient tribes that once roamed over the area. The Amah Mutsun use prayers, song and ceremonies to call back the salmon and migratory birds or to sing for the balance of the four seasons.

Joining Lopez and his fellow tribe members at the late-May ceremony officials from the federal government, the University of California at Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County and the Sempervirens Fund. At the ceremony, the descendents of the area’s indigenous people signed an agreement with managers of the Coastal Dairies property.

With the new pact, the tribe enters into an agreement with the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency in charge of managing most of the Cotoni-Coast Dairies property. The tribe now has equal authority over the property to manage native plants, preserve wildlife and undertake a more culturally sensitive approach to archaeology.

“It is not only the prayers and ceremonies of Native people that are needed to save Mother Earth,” Lopez says. “It is the prayers and ceremonies of all people.”

Under its deed, the feds must drum up a plan that protects vegetation and opportunities for recreation, says Rick Cooper, a field manager for the federal land management bureau.

Now that they signed the agreement, Amah Mutsun tribe members are waiting for either Congress or President Obama to issue a declaration that would turn the 5,741-acre federal property into the Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument—a nod to the former ranching area’s 20th-century landlords and livestock, as well as its original inhabitants.

The process began in 1998, when the Trust for Public Land bought nearly 7,000 acres of property from the Coast Dairies and Land Company. The swath of rolling hills, rocky coastal bluffs and rugged beaches located just outside the small town of Davenport represented the third-largest privately held coastal property from San Francisco to Mexico. When the Spanish arrived in Amah Mutsun territory in 1797, they found a network of villages up and down the Monterey Bay.

The Cotoni people were a tribe with their own language that settled the area that is modern-day Davenport, as well as the ridgelines, swells and redwood-dotted hills that comprise its surroundings. The Spanish, who scorned Amah Mutsun culture, persecuted the natives, forcibly converting them to Christianity, while enslaving them to help build the California missions.

The scorn and forced religious indoctrination intensified with the arrival of white American settlers from the east in the 1840s and 1850s. Fresh off of battles with the Native Americans of the Great Plains, the settlers violently fought the coastal tribes and exploited the forests for timber, the rivers for power and the wildlife for food.

A century and a half later, large-scale environmental disasters loom, Lopez says, with climate change and ocean acidification on the rise, the coast rapidly eroding, and air quality declining. The human family, he says, is harking back to the Native perspective of harmony within nature rather than dominion over it.

“It’s about restoring relationships,” Lopez says. “A big part of this [agreement] is restoring the spiritual connection to Mother Earth and returning people to an understanding of the connections we have with all things.”

Unlike tribes in the Midwest such as the Lakota and Navajo, the Amah Mutsun lacks federal recognition and therefore has no claim on their ancestral land. Recently, however, they created a land trust that would allow the tribe to buy property or enter into management agreements.

“We plan on incorporating indigenous management techniques into the practices here,” says Rick Flores, a traditional resource management specialist with UC Santa Cruz. “Hopefully, we will try to restore some of these landscapes back to what they may have looked like prior to contact.”

Federal authorities say the tribe’s presence will extend beyond incorporating traditional techniques into management of flora and fauna. Cooper has talked with tribal leaders about creating an educational program for kids about the traditional uses of land on the property. “They can come out and look at [the land] and do traditional practices that their ancestors did,” he says.

Lopez says the descendants of the Cotoni are scattered, with many living in Fresno, unable to afford the Central Coast’s high cost of living. But he says practicing the rites of the tribe on ancestral lands will help members heal from the depredations of European settlers.

“Our history is tragic,” he says. “The Mission period, the Mexican period and the early American periods were devastating to our peoples. The Indian population of California was reduced by over 96 percent. The ancestors said our peoples will suffer for seven generations and then things will get better.”

Federal authorities have yet to say when the public can access the land. Some local residents are apprehensive about what the designation could mean for their tiny beach town. In the meantime, California State Parks manages about 400 acres of the Coast Dairies property, which includes seven beaches just south of Davenport.

The Trust for Public Land has also retained a few parcels by farmland in the interest of keeping agricultural uses open, Cooper says. Federal land management officials say they will work with locals to figure out what recreational activities they would like to see—such as mountain biking, equestrian uses and hiking.

Lopez says it’s important that the Amah Mutsun receive a portion of redress for historic crimes and that they are allowed to walk the hollows and hills where they believe the spirits of their ancestors dwell.

“We believe the Creator very specifically picked our people to live on these lands and to care for all living things,” Lopez says. “After we were ripped from our lands we were unable to fulfill our sacred covenant, but the directive from the Creator was never rescinded.”


  1. Federal Authorities say the tribes presents will extend beyond incorporating traditional technique into management of flora and fauna.

    This translates to we will have a petting zoo at the Mutsun Casino and it’s 10 bucks to use the nude beaches.
    Screw the Mexican land grant!

  2. — “Lopez is president of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, made up of the descendants of the ancient tribes that once roamed over the area.”

    Judging from his surname, facial features, and complexion, Mr. Lopez appears to be a descendant of not only a displaced Native American tribe but also of some of the very people responsible for the displacement. As a surname originating in Spain (where one in fifty share it today), the Lopez name was almost certainly introduced to this continent by a conquistador (directly or by way of Mexico). What this means is that in the quest to identify and guilt-trip the villains responsible for the eradication of the natives (or, more accurately, the living descendants of those villains), the vast majority of western state Native Americans should take a look in the mirror, as they are, along with Mexican-Americans, almost certainly direct descendants of both the subjugated and the subjugators.

    Unless one’s ancestry is 100% Native American (western tribe), the right to point fingers at other Americans is specious, as the presumed guilty are less likely to be descended from those responsible for the harm done than are the mixed-blood finger-pointers. There is a huge population of Americans whose ancestors arrived on this continent after the natives had been displaced, and even more whose ancestors arrived earlier yet never even saw a native, rendering them all free of even the most convoluted of theories of guilt/responsibility. Yet many of these people are white and thus subjected to the same politically convenient vilification as one might receive were he a direct descendant of Custer or Cabrillo.

    Unless Mr. Lopez’s tribe is pureblood, and a doubt a one of them is, any attempt at a credible program of redress would start with their own members ponying up for the crimes done to their native ancestors by their non-native ancestors. Besides being historically accurate, this approach would be appropriately ridiculous, as is the whole idea of trying to correct the uncorrectable.

    • Frustrated FinFan says: “the quest to identify and guilt-trip the villains responsible for the eradication of the natives (or, more accurately, the living descendants of those villains).” There is no such quest described here, or really anywhere in the real world. No one is pointing fingers or laying blame. There is a factual history of displacement, and Mr. Lopez not being “pure blood” has nothing to do with it. You are inferring many things which are not stated or implied here. This is an opportunity to help reconnect this tribe to their homeland, via a greater role in the management of public lands. You seem angry and/or terrified that someone (you? white people? the Spanish?) will lose here, but who? Why? You call this “the uncorrectable,” which is certainly true, but why would that mean throw up our hands and ignore opportunities for healing on all sides? I’ll ask again, who loses here? The source of your defensiveness is a mystery.


      I am going to make this message as simple as possible. Nowhere in this article was there any bashing or hate geared towards any race. The History mentioned was in fact harsh on California Natives.
      Do you honestly believe by reading a last name “Lopez” you know his life story or the trials of his ancestors ?
      Get real,
      If a full blooded African woman is raped by a European, does this mean that child is no longer African and therefore her African customs should go out the window? Obviously not!
      You do not need to be full blooded Native to understand the earth needs tending and that you get further with kindness than uncalled-for hate.
      You are being very inconsiderate much like a spoon fed online bully.
      Get out of your bubble, stop thinking you know all because you have read some books by people you have never met in your life. These people are descendants (not just bias readers), they carry more knowledge of
      CALIFORNIA history than you could ever obtain behind your PC.

  3. — The tribe now has equal authority over the property to manage native plants, preserve wildlife and undertake a more culturally sensitive approach to archaeology.

    The property is under the management of the BLM, a federal agency that represents and is accountable to all Americans. Making this tribe an equal partner with that agency in decision-making will absolutely reduce the influence that local residents and local governments have on how that property is used and how to address the problems that arise. One thing for sure, when the bill comes for infrastructure and maintenance costs, those locals will be invited back to the decision-making table, but there won’t be anyone there wearing feathers.

  4. Mr. Finfan (or Ms.?) shows his/her ignorance about this subject in many ways. Not the least of which is that the Amah Mutsun did not wear feather headdresses like the Plains Indians. They decorated their bodies and clothing with shell beads, shells, abalone pieces, and tattoos. Frustrated Finfan is cordially invited to educate himself/herself further. There are plenty of resources on the web to help him/her do so.

  5. Another tip for informed observers.. you can’t believe everything journalist print either… “equal authority” is not accurate… MOU is about ensuring ancestors of indigenous peoples have access to traditional territories for cultural practices.. whereas, management of these public lands is guided by a myriad of environmental laws that require coordination with communities, tribes, local, State, and Federal agencies….. also precludes commercial development, etc.

  6. J-M S,

    If I am ignorant about anything regarding the culture of Native Americans it is because I have learned enough to realize that much of what is admired of it is myth, much of what is true of it is unimpressive, and time spent studying their folklore, lifestyles, and primitive beliefs is time better spent elsewhere.

  7. These comments are what I expected from the headline and article in the paper, and in the BLM posting of the article. Evidently the situation was misrepresented in the story; corrected by SANJOSEINSIDER about the real nature of the MOU. BLM is being transformed these days from a land management agency into a social service agency, concerned more with animals and philosophies of different activist groups than managing legitimate human uses of the public lands. In this general discussion I’m favoring FRUSTRATED FINFAN’s thoughts, bases on my own experiences with the area, with Native Americans, and with the favored status accorded special groups.

  8. The first Governor of The State Of California, Peter Burnett, Paid 5 American Dollars for every Mutsun India head brought in. $ 100000.00 plus, was paid out .
    The California Legislature voted another $250,000.00, to continue the Genocide.
    Please go to the web and find, “The Great California Genocide”.
    From there you will find enough reading to satisfy your ignorance! So much has been written, yet so little is known!
    If We really want to make OUR Country Great again, Let’s give it back to our Native Tribes. When They had stewardship of this land, it was perfect for the raping by the Europeans. & the Catholic Church, amongst others.
    I have the world of admiration, for Valentine Lopez. It starts with one small patch of land and the love of his Country.
    The Matsun elders taught the children to tell the butcher head hunters to tell them they were Mexicans. They did not behead Mexicans, only Indians.
    Unknowingly, I was buying much of this Redwood Forest, to save the California Endangered Steelhead, and the Marbled Murrelet., while a Board of Director member with Sempervirens Fund, for many years.
    I only learned about the atrocities the Amah Matsun Indiands, suffered under the diabolical hands of our first Governor of the State Of California. Peter Burnett. and The California Legislature.

    • > If We really want to make OUR Country Great again, Let’s give it back to our Native Tribes.

      You mean the primitive hunter gatherers who lived a subsistence existence? You want to give California back to them?

      BILLIONS of people would starve.

      How will starving billions of people on planet earth make OUR Country great again?

      You didn’t think this through, did you Blackie. Either that or you’re a malignantly evil megalomaniac.

  9. Perhaps you are refering to Billions of people starving, to Mein Trump, sending back all the farm workers, to Mexico.
    Governor Peter Burnett, had his own solution to the Native Americans. Chopping off their heads and thus having more yummies for his European Settlers.
    Thank You for your response, SJoutside, It gives us a clearer understanding of the depth of your Compassion.

    • > Thank You for your response, SJoutside, It gives us a clearer understanding of the depth of your Compassion.

      Speaking of compassion, Blackie, when are you going to get your profit-making, energy-gobbling, heavy-metal spewing foundry off of the Native Tribes’ land?

  10. Bubbles, You’ve been had! Do your Home Work. The mercury news did a great article on the support of the Amah Mutsun People today..
    Perhaps I will do what Apple has done and go to China. No Taxes, Repatriated to the USofA. $ 180 Billion That is just one Corporation, in Sillycon Valley.
    It has been interesting reading your mindless rabble!
    Over and Out!

  11. The Village Buffoon has leveled some serious accusations against Peter Burnett, California’s first governor — charges I’ve seen made (recklessly) by others eager to alleviate their race-related psychological ills through the twisting of history.

    Here, in an oft-cited and regularly distorted passage from his 1851 address, are the governor’s own words:

    — “That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races until the Indian race becomes extinct must be expected. While we cannot anticipate this result but with painful regret, the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power or wisdom of man to avert.” —

    The reference is to what he views as an extermination already underway (by individual combatants), for reasons he explained (comprehensibly) in the preceding paragraphs of his speech, reasons that had everything to do with the natural clash between individuals with differing values, concepts, and lifestyles. The governor was addressing the existing reality, as a responsible leader should. Read it at:

    As for the bounty alleged (without a trace of evidence), without a credible source it can be considered only more buffoonery.

  12. FFF,
    You followed my lead, yet you did not read the articles that, were so true to the true and accurate occurances,
    that actually took place.. You and your side kick Bubbles. are so uninformed. You have so much to learn of the plight of our Native Americans..
    Tonight, I have a feeling of sorrow, for your lack of understanding, regarding our Native People.
    You are not the one to speak for any one, that has the Promise of life and a new beginnings.

    • Nice try, but you made a mistake by being too specific in making your allegations, Villager. What Peter Burnett actually said about Native Americans in that speech is easily checked, but you’d rather cite “articles” that distort what he said — articles written by people holding the same prejudices held by their readers. A circle-jerk by any other name.

      I understand you feel sorrow, and you should. You’re spending your precious time on this earth so desperate to feed your resentment and race-hatred that you scour history hoping to make monsters out of every white American of note. You and your kind, who enjoy luxuries and liberties that exist due the efforts and sacrifices of our imperfect forefathers, are so dumb as to fall victim to the childish dream of a perfect past, where humans behaved as you fantasize and not as nature made them.

  13. fan,
    You are surely a quick reader of WQi8kipedia. Daa! here are a few web sites you should look into.
    ” Indians Of Callfornia_- American Period”
    American, Holocust.
    There are many more, however , it wold take a person interested ingetting to the core, to look at all of the factuale, info, to find the answer to what is reality!

    • I’m not interested in reading someone’s biased interpretation of a speech (Burnett’s 1851 State of the State) when I can read the actual speech on a credible website. You, along with an army of 13th grade academics, have wrongly accused California’s first governor of ordering the extermination of California’s native tribes, and for proof all you have to offer is a collection of websites spreading the same misinformation.

      As for your American holocaust, you are free to call the displacement of native peoples anything you want, and there were certainly crimes and outrages aplenty (on all sides), but that does not excuse anyone from manufacturing false evidence.

    • > Native American, Holocust.


      In one form or another Cannibalism has been practiced among probably all peoples at some period of their tribal life.
      . . .

      Restricting treatment of the subject to the tribes n. of Mexico, many evidences of cannibalism in some form are found — from the ingestion, perhaps obligatory, of small quantities of human flesh, blood, brain, or marrow, as a matter of ceremony, to the consumption of such parts for food under stress of hunger, or even as a matter of taste.

      Among the tribes which practised it, in one or another of these forms, may be mentioned the Montagnais, and some of the tribes of Maine; the Algonkin, Armouchiquois, Micmac, and Iroquois; farther w. the Assiniboin, Cree, Foxes, Miami, Ottawa, Chippewa, llinois, Kickapoo, Sioux, and Winnebago; in the s. the people who built the mounds in Florida (see Colusa), and the Tonkawa, Attacapa, Karankawa, Kiowa, Caddo, and Comanche(?) ; in the n. w. and w. portions of the continent, the Thhngchadinneh and other Athapascan tribes, the Thngit, Heiltsuk, Kwakiutl, Tsimshian, Nootka, Siksika, some of the Californian tribes, and the Ute.

      There is also a tradition of the practice among the Hopi, and allusions to the custom among other tribes of Arizona and New Mexico. The Mohawk, and the Attacapa, Tonkawa, and other Texas tribes were known to their neighbours as “man-eaters.”

    • > Read for your selves. Fan and Bubbles want you , ignorant of our Indian history


      I took your advice and read for myself. I’m no longer ignorant of our indian history.

      They were cannibals. They liked to eat people. Probably, they ate a lot of other Indians.

      It probably WAS a Holocaust.

  14. Allow me to leave You, Bubbles, and you other Indian haters, with a web site that will bring you up to understanding, what our Native People suffered, by simply being here in our Great State of California.
    “GOLD AND GENOICIDE” rev.con. u.s.
    This posting by Metro, has been a history lesson, like no other.

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