June 6, 2023
Where We Belong by Daisy Ocampo dispels the harmful myth that Native people are unfit stewards of their sacred places. This work establishes Indigenous preservation practices as sustaining approaches to the caretaking of the land that embody ecological sustainability, spiritual landscapes, and community well-being. The author brings together the history and experiences of the Chemehuevi people and their ties with Mamapukaib, or the Old Woman Mountains in the East Mojave Desert, and the Caxcan people and their relationship with Tlachialoyantepec, or Cerro de las Ventanas, in Zacatecas, Mexico. Below read an excerpt from the Introduction to the book.
This book explores the historic preservation of Indigenous sacred places as sites embedded with their own value systems. Concepts of Indigenous historic preservation emerged out of cultures and are not uniform. Indigenous people in Mexico and the United States understand historic preservation through their own cultural lens, not necessarily that of government officials. This work offers an Indigenous comparative approach of two Public History projects within the field and profession of historic preservation. This research juxtaposes two sets of relationships: the Chemehuevi people and their ties with Mamapukaib (Old Woman Mountains in the Eastern Mojave Desert), and the Caxcan people and their relationship with Tlachialoyantepec (Cerro de las Ventanas in southern Zacatecas). Caxcan and Chemehuevi’s sacred mountains provide an entry point into understanding the importance of creation narratives and sacred sites to Native sovereignty, and how the colonial targeting of sites through nationalist preservation projects rupture Native ties to their land. Caxcan and Chemehuevi cultures contain active preservation practices, which counters colonial accusations that Indigenous people are ill equipped to preserve their respective mountains.
Chemehuevi people are the southern-most group of Nuwuvi or Southern Paiutes whose ancestral homelands extends into the current-day states of Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and California. Contemporary Chemehuevi are enrolled in three different reservations, including the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe located along the western shore of the Colorado River across from Lake Havasu City. In addition, Chemehuevi are enrolled on the Colorado River Indian Tribes along the Colorado River in present-day California and Arizona. Finally, Chemehuevi are enrolled in the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians located in Coachella Valley of Southern California. On the other hand, Caxcan people’s ancestral homelands extends into the Mexican states of Zacatecas, Jalisco, Durango, and Nayarit although the majority reside in an area known as the Caxcan Region in southern Zacatecas. Today, numerous Chemehuevi and Caxcan people reside outside of their ancestral homelands.
The stories of these two peoples and places in North America inform us about concepts of power and significance of Indigenous sovereignty within the field of Public History, which is closely tied to governmental policies, museums, archives, and agencies involved in historic preservation. Government and educational institutions, often considered to be democratic, steward many collections connected to Native spirituality, including historical documents and cultural items. These sources offer elements of cultural knowledge germane to landscapes, but most often, they are not curated, maintained, and preserved by Indigenous people. The materials relating to the past often emerged from a colonial past and present, which has dominated their use and interpretation without the consent and leadership of Indigenous people. As a result of the colonial past, institutions and agencies continue to undermine Native stewardship of the Indigenous past. Therefore, Public History projects in relationship to and with Native communities must privilege tribal scholars, intellectuals, and members. Indigenous people, sovereignty, and preservation ontologies must be at the center of historic preservation projects. My research into Indigenous historic preservation focuses on two mountain ranges, but the work begins with my family and community.