Amah Mutsun forges tribal land trust with help of Sempervirens Fund

Tribal Chairman Valentin Lopez holds a proclamation of the city council of the city of San Juan Bautista acknowledging the Amah-Mutsun Ohlone Tribe during their Tuesday night council meeting.

The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, which has deep historical ties to Gilroy and San Benito County, has forged an agreement with the Sempervirens Fund to work together to protect the natural and cultural resources of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The Sempervirens Fund is California’s oldest land trust and the only organization exclusively devoted to permanently protecting the coast redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Since its establishment in 1900, the organization has protected more than 34,000 acres of redwood forests, planted more than 93,000 trees and built and maintained more than 60 miles of hiking trails.

The partnership with the Mutsun – the “first people of the northern Monterey Bay region” – will provide sponsorship for a new tribal land trust that will be able to purchase, restore, protect and steward natural lands in the Santa Cruz Mountains and throughout the tribe’s larger ancestral territory, according to a recent press release.

“This is a very important day for the Amah Mutsun people,” said Tribal Chairman Valentin Lopez. “As a landless tribe who has had everything taken from us by the federal government, we can now start to rebuild a more hopeful and healthy future for our children by protecting the sacred sites and landscapes that connect us to our past. The Tribal Land Trust will help preserve and create a future where all people may drink safely from clean flowing water and visit the land to make profound connections to the natural landscape that embodies the spirits of our ancestors and provides a portal to the larger universe.”

The Sempervirens Fund’s sponsorship will include providing organizational support and technical assistance for up to three years that will help the new land trust grow and develop before it fledges as a self-sufficient, separate nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable conservation organization.

Executive Director Reed Holderman with the Sempervirens Fund explained that the Mutsun are already in the process of establishing a nonprofit organization to acquire and steward land for conservation purposes within their historical geography.

“We want to assist them because protection of local redwoods and natural resources now depends on local solutions and efforts,” he explained. “The tribe has repeatedly demonstrated their desire to keep the Santa Cruz Mountains as an intact natural ecosystem, and we look forward to continuing to deepen our working relationship with them and anyone else that share these same values.”

Sempervirens will provide to the Mutsun for the next several years financial and human resources, along with land and real estate expertise as the tribe develops its land trust. In doing so, “we will assemble one of the largest and most significant natural and scenic areas in the world right here in our own backyard,” said Sempervirens Board President Diane Talbert. 

Members of the Amah Mutsun and Awaswas-speaking peoples have continually occupied the greater Monterey Bay region, thriving for thousands of years and countless generations prior to European contact.  

Sempervirens fund is the oldest land trust in California. Its efforts have led to the establishment of California’s oldest state park at Big Basin Redwoods, the creation of Castle Rock State Park and the recent protection of the largest private property holdings in the Santa Cruz Mountains. 

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