I moved to this piece of heaven called Half Moon Bay more than three years ago, and I absolutely love it here. I love the sense of community; I love the majestic sunsets and the diversity of wildlife. People who know me have heard me say, “Every day is a day of gratitude.” So during this Thanksgiving season, I am especially grateful when I hear so many of our community members share their gratitude for living in such a special place. 

But I do think it is important to remember the history of this season, and why more and more people call Thanksgiving “Truth Day” and a “Day of Mourning.”

The holiday wasn’t made official until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared it as a kind of thank you for the Civil War victories in Vicksburg, Miss. and Gettysburg, Pa. Both Native American and European societies had been holding festivals to celebrate successful harvests for centuries.

However, the historic truth is that the first American Thanksgiving was a white settler celebration of a brutal massacre of Pequot families in 1637, the culmination of the Pequot War that killed more than 700 natives. Unfortunately, “Pilgrims and Indians enjoying a feast together,”  as we were all taught in elementary school, was not the origin of our Thanksgiving holiday at all.

Let’s look at the history of Half Moon Bay. Who were the first peoples from San Francisco and San Mateo counties? The first peoples, the Ohlone peoples specifically from the Ramaytush clan, lived here for thousands of years before any other ethnicities arrived. The Ramaytush, (a Chochenyo word meaning “people of the west,”) spoke a dialect of a San Francisco Bay Costanoan language. Native communities spoke six Costanoan languages: Karkin, San Francisco Bay (Chochnyo, Tamyen, and Ramaytush), Awaswas, Mutsun, Rumsen and Chalon. 

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1769, the Ramaytush Ohlone numbered approximately 2,000 persons who lived in 10 tribelets. The ancestors of the Ramaytush Ohlone have direct ties to all Bay Area missions — Mission San Rafael, Mission San Francisco Solano, Mission San Jose, Mission Santa Clara and Mission Dolores. 

From the beginning of the Gold Rush from 1846 to 1873, within a span of 20 years, nearly 80 percent of all Californian Natives were killed. Approximately 150,000 natives were enslaved, scalped or succumbed to disease. The state of California and federal government spent nearly $1.7 million to systemically kill Native Americans.

Nonetheless, they managed to survive. There are now 109 federally recognized tribes in California; our state’s Native populations are the largest in the United States.

Now that you know the mourning and pain connected to this holiday’s history, what can you do now? Here are three simple things:

* Openly recognize that the Ohlone peoples were the first on this land. The Ohlone people are here with more than 1,000 members in various clans. Even though they’re an extreme minority within their homeland (having dwindled from centuries of mistreatment under colonization) there are still several Ohlone communities in the Bay Area region.  

* Learn more about the history of colonization in California by visiting https://www.kcet.org/shows/tending-the-wild/untold-history-the-survival-of-californias-indians

* Most importanly, support Ohlone organizations. The ancestors represented in these groups took care of the land that you live on now. There are several wonderful, tax-deductible organizations. Consider donating to Native-led organizations this holiday season. Here are a few to consider:

The Sogorea Te Land Trust — an urban, Native women-led community organization that facilitates the return of Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone lands in the San Francisco Bay Area to Indigenous stewardship;

Indian Canyon welcomes 5,000 visitors annually; it holds ceremonies and organizes school field trips by appointment;

The Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival helps keep Native languages strong in California, including Ohlone languages;

The Intertribal Friendship House, one of the oldest Indian-focused urban resource and community organizations in the United States; and

The California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Santa Rosa, which has a powerful program for Tribal youth.


Evelyn Arce Erickson is a Half Moon Bay resident of Colombian indigenous Muisca descent. She previously ran the nonprofit International Funders for Indigenous Peoples.

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