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Dean McLeod, right, talks to participants in an event to commemorate Native American Day at the Willow Pass Community Center. Photo by Nebiat Assefa Melles.

Native American Day celebrated at Concord community center

on October 5, 2016

At an event organized by the Contra Costa County Historical Society (CCCHS) to commemorate Native American Day last month, historian and author Richard Schwartz described the development activities now underway that are destroying Native American sacred sites in the area.

“They are in great pain as they don’t get the protection to save their sacred sites and almost all are being destroyed by development or [were] long ago destroyed,” said Schwartz, the author of several books on California history. “It doesn’t stop.”

Schwartz’s comments introduced a talk by author Dean McLeod, who presented the findings of his independent research on the genealogy of the Chupcan tribe’s longest-surviving family, the family of Mol-le.

The Chupcan tribe lived around what is now Concord. The tribe was one of several that comprised the Bay Miwok tribe, one of the three tribes that once populated Contra Costa county.

Over the last two decades, McLeod has spent time reconstructing Mol-le’s family line, using documents such as the Catholic Registers of Baptism from the San Francisco and San Jose missions, which tracked native peoples’ conversions to Catholicism.

According to his research, Mol-le was the oldest Chupcan recorded in the registers of Missions San Jose and San Francisco. She was born in Chupcan lands around 1737 and died when she was 79 years old. Her grandchildren lived until 1843, longer than any other Chupcan tribe members.

“I reconstructed one family genealogy. And, for me, the value of that is to take our understanding of this group of people who lived here out of the domain of generalism down to very specific individuals,” said McLeod, the author of Port Chicago, a book on the history of the small town of Suisun Bay in Contra Costa County.

McLeod added that the genealogical tree method could be helpful to calculate more precisely the population of Native Americans living in the area at the time when Spanish explorers came to the United States.

Native American Day is celebrated annually in California and South Dakota on the fourth Friday of September. The CCCHS organized the event for the first time this year at the Willow Pass Community Center. Around 70 people from the community participated.

“We want to celebrate those people who were here before us,” said Tara Weber, marketing volunteer for CCCHS, “and as a historical society certainly, the history of our area before any of us were here.”

Attendees agreed.

“I believe it is important for us to know and to understand so that we can respect, preserve and appreciate all the beautiful native lands,” said Elby Salazar, a Danville resident.

“Societies are often blind and insensitive to the pain of minorities whose rights get trampled, and cries go unheard,” said Schwartz in an email after the event.

“The Indians don’t have enough numbers to fight back effectively and don’t have the money and lawyers of developers to defeat their protests,” he said.

The program ended with a fifteen-minute walk across the street from the Willow Pass Community Center. The participants gazed out at Diablo Valley, where the Chupcans built a village and lived for hundreds of years.

“This is their land. Their presence is still here, and we are the voices and advocators of the people with the knowledge to tell the history of our area Contra Costa County,” said Salazar.

Weber spoke about the importance of restoration of native lands: “If something is not done, it might be gone forever.”

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