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Ashland meetings will acknowledge Indigenous peoples' land

Following months of effort and outreach between local tribes, a local nonprofit and Ashland’s new mayor, the city will soon begin regularly acknowledging local tribes for the land the city is on.

At the Ashland City Council meeting Tuesday, which will be held via Zoom, Ashland Mayor Julie Akins will introduce plans to include a statement at the start of city meetings acknowledging that the city is on Indigenous people’s land.

“We acknowledge and honor the aboriginal people on whose ancestral homelands we live — the Ikirakutsum Band of the Shasta Nation, including the original past indigenous inhabitants, as well as the diverse Native communities who make their home here today. We also recognize and acknowledge the Shasta village of K’wakhakha — ‘Where the Crow lights’ — that is now the Ashland City Plaza,” a draft of the proclamation said.

Akins didn’t write the proclamation. Instead she drew from the efforts of Lomakatsi Restoration Project, and Indigenous leaders at the nonprofit organization who collaborated with local tribes.

Lomakatsi board President Tonia Red Eagle-Gonzalez, who is part of Apache and Purepecha tribes, described acknowledging local Indigenous people as key to respecting them.

“The people who were originally here were here for a long enough time ... we walk on the bones of their ancestors under this ground,” Red Eagle-Gonzalez said.

“There’s a process of introducing yourself as a Native person when you’re on someone else’s land,” said Red Eagle-Gonzalez, who worked for 13 years doing outreach for Native American veterans at the VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City.

“The traditional way of respecting the local tribe is always to ask first before you have a ceremony, especially if you’ve brought a ceremony that’s not traditional to the area.”

Akins described the formation of the proclamation as “something where two rivers came together.”

She started looking into acknowledging that the city was on land of Indigenous people while she was a city councilor last summer but she “wanted to get it right,” she said, so she sought input from tribal leaders.

Drawing from Akins’ past work with Lomakatsi — she worked on the nonprofit’s communications team in 2019 — Akins reached out to the nonprofit’s Tribal Partnerships Director Belinda Brown.

“I reached out to Belinda and it turned out they’d already been working on this for some time prior,” Akins said, describing a joint effort between Brown, Red Eagle-Gonzales and Lomakatsi Executive Director Marko Bey. “They’d already done the groundwork on it.”

Bey said the credit goes to tribal leaders involved but praised the city’s efforts under earlier mayors, touching on Ashland’s first Indigenous Day proclamation in 2006 — years before Indigenous Day proclamations gained traction — and praised Akins for taking those efforts and “bringing it to the finish line.”

“It takes a lot of courage for elected officials to step up and do this,” Bey said.

Brown, who is a member of the Kosealekte Band of the Ajumawi-Atsuge Nation, also known as the Pit River Tribe, praised Akins’ efforts as being “on the cutting edge of reform and reconciliation in the town of Ashland and beyond.”

“I’m really proud to have her as a former colleague and mayor of Ashland right now,” Brown said.

Akins said her experience working with Lomakatsi in 2019 taught her “so much about tribal relationships and the importance of honoring the elders in our region — and throughout the country.”

“I have a long way to go, but I definitely became more educated about these issues through my relationship with Lomakatsi,” Akins said, reflecting on experiences in 2019 such as visiting different tribal communities and joining the nonprofit in Washington, D.C., where Bey, Brown and other Northern California tribal leaders testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources on tribes’ traditions of strategically using fire to keep forest ecosystems healthy.

Noting that the tribes didn’t go away and that Lomakatsi draws from the wisdom of Indigenous people, Akins described the proclamation’s recognition as only a “first step.”

“These are living, breathing people that are still here doing this work,” Akins said. “This isn’t like some nod to the past, this is currently happening.”

Brown and Red Eagle-Gonzalez gave a presentation on the importance of the proclamation at the Jan. 19 City Council meeting, according to Akins. She called it an it an “important and vibrant presentation” that moved the council.

“I certainly was,” Akins said.

At the Tuesday meeting, Akins, with the help of Brown and Red Eagle-Gonzalez, will read the proclamation into the record, Akins said. She said she wants to ensure they have all pronunciations correct, “and then off we go.”

“Going forward we’ll continue to do that at every business meeting,” Akins said, describing how “it’s because of the wisdom of these people that this place still exists as it does.”

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.