The first part of our series included features Victor Bjelajac, District Superintendent in the North Coast Redwood District for California State Parks; Kimberly Morales Johnson, Tribal Secretary of the Gabrieleno / Tongva Tribe; and Rudy Ortega Jr., Tribal President of the Tataviam / Fernandeño Tribe. The program was moderated by Alina Bokde, Chief Deputy Director of the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation. The program speakers shared their experiences in navigating the co-stewardship of stolen land with Indigenous tribes and communities within and beyond colonial systems.
“So when you look at land, it’s such a connection, it’s rooted in us, it’s our DNA to the soil, to the trees. It’s our ancestors that was, who had died prior, who are here in these lands. And so when we see these, this is a reflection of who we are as people today. So when we talk about land return, we’re talking about kin.” – Rudy Ortega
“… and luckily as you know, and I’ll share, we have been given the chance by one private owner to exercise our self determination and our strength and our sovereignty. And we’re in the process right now. No, it’s not easy, land work is hard work, but it’s part of our story. So we have been busily working to restore the land and to get it to a place where we want it, so that we can exercise our ceremonies and have a place where we can be together as people.” – Kimberly Morales Johnson
“When you have land and that’s part of you, and everything about it. It’s a separation and a severing. And it’s giving people land back is reintroducing people, allowing people, allowing, helping people practice their culture and their practice their traditional livelihoods. It’s a preparation for when do you actually give the management of those lands over. That’s something that I’m willing to do and working with folks towards doing. A lot of times there’s an issue of capacity. You can give somebody a plot of this and then it’s how do you manage that. I’ve got a friend, Cutcha Risling Baldy, and it isn’t even a conversation. “How do you do it?” “You give it back.” And when I go into, “well how do you manage it, how do you do this,” she’s going, “Well, none of your business.” So, I’ll leave it at that.” – Victor Bjelajac