I have been recently brushing up on my California history as I learn about our local community with my student leaders. Last week, we focused on learning about the indigenous communities on the San Mateo County coast to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October, 10th, 2022. Indigenous people were estimated to live in California for thousands of years before they saw any white settlers and from there, the indigenous people’s lives changed forever. They were forced into Missions under Spanish rule and stripped of their cultures. After the Gold Rush in 1849, California became a state in 1850, and the state legislature passed a law saying that anyone who killed an indigenous person would be reimbursed for their bullets. Indigenous children who were orphaned were permitted to be taken in by white families and enslaved. This is horrifying and a dark mark in California history to know that the government supported and created a system for a mass genocide of indigenous people.
As my students and I were uncovering this information, piece by piece, I felt angry that I was not taught about this in school. California history had a glossy feel to it back then, and I remember being taught that it was a point of pride in California history that our state was brought into the Union as a “free state” without enslaved people. What a lie our history books were telling us!
As a state and country, I feel deeply that we have some reckoning and apologizing to do for our actions. While I do not have solutions as a whole to how we can make it right for stealing land and destroying lives of indigenous people, I do think that educators can start by teaching all sides of history to students. As non-indigenous people, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves through reading, listening, experiencing, and taking time to reflect. Individuals can not fix a system, but we can heal ourselves, and that is a start.
As a first step, I want to encourage educators to demonstrate how to show appreciation for the land we live on and acknowledge that it is not ours. This can be done at the beginning of a class period, assembly, or event, with a statement of acknowledgment for local indigenous tribes. It can also be done through meditation or a prayer of gratitude for the indigenous people, their land, and cultures.
Today, as I celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, I acknowledge my privilege as a white woman. I am taking time to honor the Ohlone people who lived in Moss Beach, where I live, while reflecting on my state and country’s dark history. I look forward to having more conversations with my students tomorrow about their own reflections. It is a process we must go through together in hopes of collective healing in the future and doing right by the next generation of indigenous people.