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Gilroy, February 13, 2002, by Jeff Purham

I've had the opportunity in recent weeks to study some of the history of places like Hollister and Gilroy. I’ve visited buildings, museums, and read stories about notable people. I sought out documentation to prove and to verify; after all, what I write should be truthful to the very best of my understanding.  These efforts usually started in the library or on websites. On a recent trip though, I had the chance forgo this type of documentary approach and instead perceive things differently, through the eyes of others and without demanding a paper trail to authenticate my perceptions. It was a rare chance to step outside my current perspective and experience my surrounding through the eyes and heart of another per-son, people and time. My visit to Indian Canyon near Hollister was a unique and inspiring experience which challenged my pre-conceptions of the past, and more so of the present.

My guide through Indian Canyon was Ann Marie Sayers, an Ohlone Indian who lives in the canyon. The Ohlone, also known as Costanoans, lived throughout northern California in numerous tribes. The particular tribe that inhabited the canyon region were the Mutsun.  Sayers is a descendant of these people and was kind enough to share an afternoon showing me the canyon and explaining its significance to her and other Native Americans.

Indian Canyon is a beautiful and spiritually rich place. Its steep walls and narrow floor are lined with oak trees of which Sayers commented are very important in Ohlone creation stories. Up canyon are a group of cascading water-falls where spiritual cleansing ceremonies are often performed using an abalone shell, sage, and an eagle feather. Young ferns and winter grasses line the trail up to the falls. Fresh offerings of corn meal and tobacco were scattered along the trail. During my walk through the canyon, I could imagine how it must have seemed for the people who lived there years before. To them, this beautiful land and flowing water were gifts. They were spiritually connected to the plants, animals and land that provided their sustenance.

In centuries past, the canyon served as a refuge where native Americans went to hide in relative safety. Sayers said, "Indian Canyon served as a safe haven, particularly during the round up of Indian people." It is likely that many Indians returned to the canyon after the abolishment of the mission system by the Mexican government in 1835. This act essentially removed governmental support of the mission system and left Indians without a means of survival. The canyon holds a burial site for Mutsun Indians who lived in the region before the establishment of the missions.  Anthropologist Alison Galloway spent time in the canyon studying the burial site. According to Sayers. Galloway’s opinion was that the people who were buried there were very healthy and must have lived a comfortable and robust life at the time the burial site was in use.

Today, traditional ceremonies are held in the canyon such as an annual Bear Dance and a California Indian story telling event. Numerous sweat lodges are scattered throughout the canyon including an authentically designed subterranean sweat lodge. Ceremonies performed in the sweat lodge have been used as away to reach troubled youth from the surrounding communities. One case involved gang members. Sayers stated, "...there was a group of early teens in need of prayer. They (counselors) asked if we had a sweat lodge they could use.  The aim was to expose them to a traditional ceremony.  It saved some lives.  One was a gang member who wanted to retaliate against another gang. The experience changed his perspective."

The land inside the canyon covers two individual Indian Trust Allotments from the federal government. President Taft granted the first allotment to Sebastian Garcia, Sayers’ great grandfather, in 1911. The second was granted to Sayers in 1988, following an 8 year battle for recognition.  For Sayers. the allotments represent one small victory for her and all native Americans who have borne great injustices.  She has tried to use the allotments to positive ends. She commented, "Today I'm living my dream. I'm honoring the original people from this area. We’ve opened up my great-grandfather’s allotment for use by all tribes and people in need of places to hold traditional ceremonies."  Indeed the area has appeal to many aboriginal people. Tribal people from around the world have come to visit the site. A totem is placed within the canyon, set there by a visiting aborigine from New Zealand.

In 1997 a museum was built within the canyon. The museum was a cooperative effort between Ohlone Indians and UCSC interns.  The museum contains authentically built replicas of items used by the Ohlone, such as an arrow, games, weaving, and a tule house.

The museum is lighted using solar power since the canyon is not connected to the power grid. The canyon website has pictures of some of the museum displays.

The treatment of native Americans throughout history is well understood by historians, informed citizens and of course Indians. It is one of the sad chapters in our national story. Sayers continues to fight for the rights of Indians.

Many of the facts of this struggle are documented from the Indian perspective on the Indian Canyon website.  Though the effort continues, she acknowledges that there has been progress. "Today", according to Sayers, "is the best time to be an Indian since contact."

Visit the canyon website at to learn more about Indian Canyon and the Ohlone Indians.

The above article was scanned from the original publication and the words transcribed using an OCR program.  The pictures are scans of the publication.  Permission to include it was neither sought nor obtained.

A Friend of Indian Canyon built this website to raise awareness of the proposed Village House in Indian Canyon.  For further information contact Ann Marie Sayers, tribal chairperson, by email or phone at 831-637-4238.  For information about this website please contact webmaster. Privacy Policy
 Revised: 05/09/09.