San Jose, CA

What a mother does for her people

Vic Aquino
(Adobe stock image)

(SAN JOSE, CA) - There’s no doubt of the power of a mother’s unconditional love.

If only this level of devotion, encouragement, strength, and female perspective were central and consistent for all 7.8 billion people on earth - - the world would experience...

In our great city of San Jose is one profound microcosm of motherhood that emanates from one point of space and time – the summer of 1992 in the area of Bernal Road & Highway 85 approaching Highway 101 near Coyote Creek.

An over 2000-year-old ancient burial place of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe was unearthed during the highway 85 build.

The opposing dynamics at that South Bay burial location from August to September 1992 represents many contrasts: oppression vs. kindness, tragedy vs. collaboration and simple vs. complex.

At the center is devoted 90-year-old Delores “Dottie” Galvan Lemeira of San Jose, a tribal elder and council member of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe.

Who are the Muwekma Tribe and why are they important?

Firstly, comprehend that for thousands of years before the present day, over 100 million Native Americans lived in North America in harmony with the environment, and by-in-large, with respect for each other.

In California, prior to the Spanish colonizer's arrival in 1769, the native population decreased from 300,000 to less than 250,000 by the mid-1800s.

As California entered the Union in 1850, state-sponsored massacres decimated the native population further. Diseases and viruses from both the Spanish and American colonizers also continued the annihilation.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe was the indigenous group that was enslaved and Christianized across three Spanish missions: Dolores, Santa Clara, and San Jose.

It wasn’t until 1968 when the American Indian Movement was successful in finally helping convince the greater U.S. of the longstanding plight and injustices against Native Americans.

The battle for recognition and reparations still rightfully continues.

It is an all-too-familiar story of a deeply sordid past and overly righteous elite that systemically diminishes people of color today.

Deeper still, though the male warrior strength and mentality is more often portrayed, it is the motherly central figures of these native nations that were a big unsung part of their cultures.

The same oppressors stole and pillaged this female energy and left a rudderless society.

A point in space and time in San Jose

August 1992 was a normal warm Bay Area summer.

A then 62-year-old Dottie Galvan kneeled next to a 2,000-year-old grave meticulously brushing away dirt to carefully expose the skeletal remains of an ancestor. All the while nearby, large equipment churned huge swaths of earth preparing for the new 18-mile stretch of highway 85.

Kaphan Húunikma (Kap-han’ Hu-unikma) was the name of the archaeological site Dottie and her other tribal members were excavating. The sacred burial place is more commonly known as the Three Wolves site (years earlier another Ohlone cemetery was also uncovered where the current Hyatt Place is located in downtown San Jose).

It was Dottie, her other Muwekma elders, tribal members, and San Jose State archaeologists’ painstaking task to properly and hurriedly excavate over 100 grave sites that would eventually find their way to a new nearby, undisclosed burial site in 1994.

“Polite” pressure of deadlines and delays were a constant reminder pushing along this delicate work.

The large amounts of money and resources of the industrial complex (in this case, CalTrans & the Santa Clara County Traffic Authority) were impossible to stop and the Muwekma tribe of today were keenly aware.

With the backdrop of construction workers, Dottie and crew worked every day in the hot sun and dusty environment. They finished by the end of September 1992.

In this case, all parties attempted to collaborate with respect, such as using gentler excavation methods with the large earth-moving equipment.

Still, the Muwekma have such an entrenched generational trauma, conscious or unconscious, that they were going to work as fast as they could for the sake of not losing their ancestor's remains.

Regardless, Dottie and her fellow Muwekma tribe members tried to bond with everyone at the site after each day’s hard work. This included all “guests” of the site with daily after-work feasts indicative of the Ohlone heritage.

Even at the reinternment ceremony in 1994 at the new burial site, members from the Muwekma, CalTrans, and Santa Clara Traffic Authority paid their respects.

A spiritual connection from the Muwekma of the past to the people of the present was made in that short time.

Dottie, a daughter, a mother, a Muwekma

Dottie had mixed emotions having to disturb the graves of her people back in 1992. It was a shared sentiment with her other tribal elders: Susanne Rodriguez, Julia Lopez, and Joe Rodriguez but it was their ancestral duty, emotional as it was.

“I don’t like having to do this, but it has to be done because they’ve been disturbed already,” Dottie, quoted from a 1997 Muwekma archaeological paper (noted below), “I hope when we put them back in the ground again that they will never, never be disturbed again.”

What should be evident in Dottie’s life as with any motherly patriarch is an absolute sense of family, honor, and pain.

Dottie was from a modest family in Brentwood, California from the 1930s to 1950s. She moved to San Jose in 1957 after finding a dry-cleaning job and worked there for 20 years.

She credits her mother as the “general” of the family and how her mother and father would tell her and her siblings stories all the time. Dottie cherished many family bonding times – all of which can be envisioned as it was in the distant past of the Muwekma people in a much sparser San Jose.

Dottie is also proud of the Muwekma’s commitment to educate others of their ancestors and to keep it going for future generations, which includes her son Arnold, who’s a Muwekma archaeologist.

She places a very high value on education so such a brutal past will never repeat, only a future that should one day be in shared harmony.



Cited references:

Cambra, Rosemary; Leventhal, Alan; Jones, Laura; Rodriguez, Susanne; Sanchez, Norma; Chalfant, Ann. “The Story of the Archaeology of Kaphan Huunikma (the Three Wolves Site).” 1997, 2015

Hedges, Alicia. “A Consideration of Muwekma Ohlone Oral Histories with Kuksu.” May 2019.

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A 50+ year San Jose-native focusing on social awareness, social good, social impact and the hidden gems and treasures of the area. Freelance journalist & sports contributor to SB Nation & SF 49ers (@VicD_SJ on Twitter).

San Jose, CA

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