The land that City Hall, and the rest of the sprawling Sacramento metropolis, was built on is the ancestral home of the Nisenan, Southern Maidu, Valley and Plains Miwok, and Patwin Wintun peoples.
Now, before each Sacramento City Council meeting, residents will be reminded of that history.
Gathering for a land blessing ceremony Tuesday afternoon, members of Wilton Rancheria, Sacramento’s only federally recognized tribe, celebrated a newly adopted land acknowledgment that will be read before City Council meetings.
It’s a step toward “atonement,” said Wilton Rancheria chairman Jesus Tarango Jr., as smoke from a burning smudge stick of mugwort, the kind that grows along the Sacramento and American rivers, curled around him.
“I think a lot of people know that Native Americans were here … but they don’t think we still exist,” he said. “This is a way to show them that we were here, we’re still here, and we plan on being here.”
The formal statement is intended to recognize the indigenous people who have been dispossessed and displaced, celebrate their historical contributions, and honor the lives and culture of Native American and Indigenous residents living today.
The declaration, which will be recited before the Pledge of Allegiance, was unanimously approved by the Sacramento City Council Tuesday. The creation of a land acknowledgment had been previously recommended by the city’s Racial Equity Ad Hoc Committee.
“Unless we learn the lessons of our history and reckon with our own past, we can’t possibly be successful in attaining or even moving closer to attaining a greater racial equity, it’s about learning the lessons and then changing,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg said during the council meeting.
The practice of recognizing the land and the people who’ve walked it before is one rooted in Indigenous tradition, said Mary Tarango, Jesus’ mother and the first Wilton Rancheria chairwoman.
“We reach out to our ancestors all the time … and we ask them, ‘How should it be done, what have you taught us?’ We learn those things and we carry it forward,” she said during the ceremony.
For indigenous people, tribal identity is intricately linked to place, said Britta Guerrero, CEO of the Sacramento Native American Health Center.
“We care for this place as a relative to us in the same way that it continues to care for us as people,” she said during the council meeting, “so acknowledgment of the land is very important for the original inhabitants and the origin stewards of this place.”
Guerrero added that while the declaration is a positive move, the city has much work to dismantle institutional barriers to health, education, economic success and more for Native American and Indigenous residents.
“Reconciliation with Indigenous people requires work,” she said.
City and state governments across the United States have been increasingly adopting formal statements that recognize Indigenous people, particularly in the wake of social unrest and conversations around racial justice last year. In some cases, these declarations include promises to address legacies of oppression, or acknowledge the violence Indigenous people have faced.
“If it starts here in our capital, the city, maybe it will spread to these other big cities in California so we can get that to our people, the original inhabitants,” Tarango Jr. said.
The new acknowledgment will be read as follows:
To the original people of this land.
The Nisenan people,
The Southern Maidu,
Valley and Plains Miwok,
Patwin Wintun peoples, and
the people of the Wilton Rancheria,
Sacramento’s only Federally recognized Tribe.
May we acknowledge and honor the Native people
who came before us and still walk beside us today on these ancestral lands
by choosing to gather together today
in the active practice of acknowledgment and appreciation
for Sacramento’s Indigenous People’s history, contributions, and lives.
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