As we begin today’s service, I want to acknowledge that we hold this service of remembrance and commemoration on Indigenous land. Following the “Gold Rush” of 1849 and California becoming a state in 1850, the United States government began the stated process to establish formal relationships with tribal communities. The unstated intent of this process was to extinguished Indigenous title to the land, and forcible move people to areas that were not desired by Whites. Throughout 1851 and 1852, three commissioners negotiated with tribes up and down the state creating the alphabet treaties – Treaty A through to Treaty R.
Liberty Cemetery, and Petaluma in general, sits on the unceded land that was once home to the Me-wuk (or Coastal Miwok) and Graton Rancheria people. It was included in Cession Tract 297 of Treaty P in 1851, which was designed to cede all claim to the territory and remove the people to the Clear Lake Reserve.
However, the US Senate would later fail to ratify these treaties because if Mexico had not originally recognized the Indigenous titles to these lands, then there was no need for the US to even enter into treaties to take the land. As such, the land we stand on today is unceded territory.
It is important to understand that both the existence of the treaties and their contents were held in secret until 1905, which meant that for over 50 years the Indigenous tribes of California had no right to exist. Additionally, while the US Government were negotiating these treaties, the newly formed State of California passing laws to authorize and pay for the extermination of Indigenous people or to provide for their enslavement.
Today, as we remember those who have bravely answered their country’s call to service, we should also remember and acknowledge the people indigenous to this land, their culture, their language, and their freedom – all of which were stolen from them.