Lessons from a Hummingbird by Alena VanDrielen

hummingbirdHummingbirds should not be able to fly. Yet, they are all around us: defying gravity and even flying backwards (Ranford, 2008)! Hummingbird is the symbol for the Amah Mutsun, a Bay Area tribe of Ohlone Native Americans (Lopez, personal communication, Sept 14, 2012). Made up of a mere 600 members – and despite a lack of federal recognition which would grant the tribe legal rights to lands that were once their own (Hart, 2003) – the Amah actively collaborates with universities and land management groups on cultural-ecology restoration projects.

The Relearning Garden at the University of California, Santa Cruz is a collaborative effort focused on restoring the Amah language, customs, and traditions (Lopez, 2011) and increasing broad awareness for the environment (Killam, 2010). A large collection of culturally-significant native plant species have been tagged for reintroduction. Once in place, the natives will provide a pool of cultural knowledge, and provide a habitat for educational programs about native plants (Cultivating, 2012).

Once lost ancient knowledge of native landscape fire maintenance techniques have been revealed in the Quiroste Valley project.  Using fire scars and soil deposits, researchers working with the Amah have determined exactly how early Natives used fire to control and shape the land (TBG, 2009). This site is helping the Amah reclaim and share “over 10,000 years of knowledge of how to keep balance, how to take care of plants, and how to care for Mother Earth.” (Hoppin, 2012).

Indeed, like hummingbird, the Amah Mutsun are defying the odds.



Cultivating native wisdom for the future generations. (2012). The Arboretum at the University of Santa Cruz. Retrieved Oct 23, 2012, from

Hart, R.E.(2003). Federal recognition of native American tribes: The case of California’s Amah Mutsun. Western Legal History: The Journal of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society, 16(1), 39-84.

Hoppin, J. (2012, October 17). Homeland security: Tribe aims to use modern means to protect ancestral lands. The Santa Cruz Sentinel. Retrieved Oct 23, 2012, from

Killam, D. (2010) Corps of engineers kicks off Mount Umunhum rejuvenation. The Official Homepage of the United States Army. Retrieved Oct 23, 2012, from

Lopez, V. (2011, February). Our creation story. The Pinnacles Partnership Voice. Retrieved Oct 23, 2012, from

Alena VanDrielen studies communications at San Jose State. She’s a devotee of all things rhetorical, often spending countless hours seeking to uncover the deeper connections within the ordinary.

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