Welcoming the Newest Member of Protect Coyote Valley: the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe

By Megan Fluke, Executive Director of Green Foothills

Launched in 2017, the Protect Coyote Valley initiative is bringing together the community who believes that the Coyote Valley region in south San Jose should be permanently protected and restored.

Since, it has been this collective effort of its now 12 members that have brought our community to the moment where protecting and restoring most of North and Mid Coyote Valley is in sight

We are very happy to welcome the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe into the Protect Coyote Valley community as much of the Coyote Valley region is in Muwekma Territory, lands that their people have stewarded for thousands of years.

Protect Coyote Valley recognizes that there is a long history of broken treaties between sovereign nations and the American government and it takes a lot to build trust for tribes. While the Muwekma Tribe has joined the Protect Coyote Valley coalition, we recognize that it is even more important to collaborate with and have the permission of the Tribe to advocate for the sacred lands that they have stewarded for thousands of years. We recognize that the Muwekma Tribe is not another nonprofit member but a sovereign nation.

Charlene Nijmeh became the chairwoman in 2018 after her mother, Rosemary Cambra, held the position for over 30 years. Her career has been grounded in environmentalism, as the founder and CEO of 7th Generation Recycling ( a textile recycling company) and Green Education Foundation (a non-profit dedicated to recycling education). Her companies divert over 60 million pounds annually of unwanted textiles to plants in Central America that not only reuse but also recycle the textiles into fiber to make new materials such as carpet underlay and mattress padding.

Charlene has taken a break from the day to day operations of her companies to focus her energies on the Muwekma Tribe. “Leading my people is the greatest honor of my life, but the job won’t end with my leadership, so I want to teach and motivate the next generation of Muwekma Leaders to continue our struggles. We have a long way to go and not just in regaining our Tribal Status, but also protecting our aboriginal lands from the mismanagement that has led to more and more destruction by wildfires and overdevelopment.”

“We want the community to know that we are still here,” said Chairwoman Nijmeh. “We are and will forever be connected to our lands, fighting to stay and work with our communities to respect the lands that feed and shelter us all.

The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe is working on multiple fronts and they are all interconnected. Their top priority is to seek clarification of their status as a federally recognized Tribe because that offers protection of sovereign rights as an Indian Tribe and that in turn helps protect their traditional lands.

“Without recognition, our voice is minimized and oftentimes ignored. For example, we work with Universities and cities to repatriate our ancestors. Our Tribe has worked since the 1960’s to protect our sacred sites and reclaim our ancestral remains but unfortunately some choose to ignore the Tribe’s rightful claims because of our unrecognized status. Today one of the biggest challenges we face is the Repatriation of UC Berkeley’s collection. Out of the thousands of pieces they have, 80% of the collection is known to be Ohlone and we are now fighting to reclaim our ancestors and lay them to a peaceful rest.”

The Muwekma Tribe is also continuously working on preserving and revitalizing their language, culture, and traditions in order to keep their community from losing a sense of who they are and where they came from. “This is a danger to all people who ignore their past. If we do not continue our traditions – especially our traditions of protecting Mother earth – from generation to generation then how do we ensure our influence continues beyond our lifetimes?”

“Furthermore, we are now focusing our energies in supporting and working with conservation groups in our traditional homeland to protect our lands as well as help connect our tribal members back to the lands. This is one of the reasons we are so glad to join the Protect Coyote Valley Coalition.”

Protect Coyote Valley is led by Green Foothills and supported by Greenbelt Alliance, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter, SAGE – Sustainable Agriculture Education, the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, the Land Trust of Santa Clara Valley, Mothers Out Front, Green Party of Santa Clara County, San Jose Parks Foundation, Silicon Valley Youth Climate Strike, and the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe. Collectively these organizations represent their 100,000 members and supporters in Santa Clara County.

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