I’m still writing about the Shellmound Peace Walk. How did I end up there? I learned of the walk when my family and I went to the Gathering of Ohlone Peoples at Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont on October 3, 2010. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, watching traditional Ohlone dances, trying (and failing) to make fire, and learning all about Native life. One of the exhibit tables belonged to Indian People Organizing for Change (IPOC) and was staffed by Corrina Gould and Perry Matlock. They were promoting the Shellmound Peace Walk which immediately captured my imagination, especially when I found out they were going through Milpitas. I resolved to join the walk if logistics permitted.
Logistics permitted, so the morning of November 17 I left my car at the Great Mall and took public transit to Alviso Marina. I had a bit of a wait since all the other walkers were coming from the Oakland/Berkeley area and were stuck in rush hour traffic. I didn’t mind; it was a beautiful, sunny morning out on the Marina and I quietly contemplated the views of the water, tule marsh, and the Valley hills until everyone arrived.
Corrina explained to us the significance of Alviso: that her Ohlone ancestors lived there and collected salt for trade. (The Alviso salt ponds continued to be a major commercial operation up until pretty recently.) When the Spanish rounded up Indians they used Alviso as a collection point before marching them to Mission San Jose so our Peace Walk that day was approximating their trail.
We set off. Our route took us from the Marina down First Street, towards Tasman. Earlier that morning I had sent a tweet to Adelaide Chen of Milpitas Patch to let her know the Walk was coming through, and I was delighted she came out to meet us on First Street. I recognized her from her profile photo and introduced myself, and she was a great sport, walking along with us while we chatted. She commissioned me to write the article for Patch, which was an unexpected opportunity. I was a little hesitant because I envisioned myself later that evening furiously pounding out the article on my laptop while soaking my feet in an Epsom salt bath and I was worried about possible electrocution hazards, but I accepted. She gave me some quick journalism tips which were a big help because I would have been stuck after who/when/where/why/what’s-for-lunch. My new assignment colored the rest of my day though because now I had real responsibility, and I felt I had to inform everybody that the casual conversations we had been having were now “on the record.”
We turned up Tasman, passing through Cisco land. We took a break on a patch of grass in front of a Cisco building where we were questioned by some Cisco employees, probably plainclothes security. I suspect they wanted to make sure we weren’t protesting them, but they were happy when Corrina told them we were just passing through. It was strange being here because I work very nearby, so reflecting on ancient peoples in the midst of all the high-tech companies that comprise my world now was a jarring juxtaposition. Crossing Coyote Creek into Milpitas grounded me because the creek has special significance to me. I live and work close to it, and it’s a constant feature I’ve seen on many old maps so it helps me link the past and the present.
The next point of interest for the Walk was Elmwood Correctional Complex, former site of an Ohlone shellmound. As we passed we could hear the shouts of inmates; I don’t know if they were shouting at us, for us, or if they even knew we were there. Our group said prayers and dropped tobacco—traditional medicine—for the spirits of the dead. Turning up Abel we walked along the culvert that used to be Penitencia Creek and marveled at a number of majestic blue herons gathered there. I could see the Jain Center on Main Street and thought about how this spot is a spiritual nexus for Milpitas. The Ohlone buried their dead here, and the Franciscans gave penance here, giving Penitencia Creek its name. I remarked on the irony of passing Serra Center, a strip mall named for Father-President Junipero, considered by many to be a symbol of Indian oppression. His 297th birthday happened to be exactly one week later, November 24.
We rested again outside Carl’s Jr. and IPOC co-founder Johnella LaRose gave us some history of the Walk and its roots in 1978′s The Longest Walk and its connection to numerous international Peace Walks for varied causes such as nuclear non-proliferation. I interviewed Jun Yasuda, the Japanese Buddhist nun heading our procession, to understand her dedication to Native American causes. She explained to me that as a Buddhist she is drawn to confront human suffering such as the Indians endured through history. Also she sees traditional Native selflessness—putting the community ahead of one’s self—as compatible with Buddhist teaching and a way forward for mankind to Peace. Maybe Columbus was onto something when he confused the so-called “Indians” of the “New World” with residents of India, birthplace of Buddhism.
The rest of the trek was a long haul up Abel to Milpitas Boulevard and Warm Springs. We were supposed to turn onto Mission Boulevard and end at Mission San Jose but our late start caught up with us so we ended the day at Booster Park in Fremont. IPOC provided food fixin’s and I made myself a peanut butter, jelly, and corn chip sandwich. After a ten-mile walk I think officially it was The Best Sandwich I ever tasted. My feet were tender and my thighs ached (as much from the barbell lunges I did in the gym the day before as from the walk) and I was more than a little damp from the unseasonably warm weather, but it was all worth it. We sat in a circle and several in the group shared their thoughts and feelings on the day.
I had planned to take a bus back to the Great Mall but I ended up catching a ride with a driver who kindly shuttled those who had to retrieve vehicles left in Alviso. It was astounding how quickly we got back, retracing by car in minutes the route it took us hours to walk. Modern transportation is a gift, but being able to complete the walk, even for just one day, was a blessing.