Centering Native voices and history in Canopy’s work

By Canopy Team on August 16, 2023

White oak, such as the Valley Oak (Quercus lobata, pictured) treats mouth sores, coughs, and dried skin.

Canopy is committed to further educating ourselves and learning how to better serve the communities we work with. In determining which Indigenous People(s)’ land Canopy resides and works on, we sat down with Indigenous leaders and experienced nonprofits that support native people. We learned that there are three tribes with overlapping ancestral territory claims. We also learned that the purpose of a Land Acknowledgment is to elevate the specific tribe who is native to the land you are on, and is not something that should be done flippantly. In order to avoid uniting Indigenous peoples together and causing harm to the community, we have decided to phase out our Land Acknowledgment.

A Land Acknowledgment holds little meaning if there is no action directed at supporting Indigenous peoples, or if the statement identifies multiple Indigenous tribes at once. After careful consideration and reflection, Canopy has decided that instead of stretching ourselves to half-serve Indigenous peoples with programs, we will put our full focus on the communities who are currently at the heart of our work. We are not making this decision lightly and will continue to learn and listen so that we may successfully support all residents in our service areas.

The lands of the mid-peninsula were stolen from multiple Indigenous tribes, who have since been displaced. The descendants of the original peoples of this continent are still here and continue to nurture the land and live in relationship with the trees, plants, and animals on it. We encourage you to start your own journey of learning and understanding the struggles Indigenous peoples face and have provided the following resources.

Background on Bay Area Indigenous nations and trees

Indigenous philosophy sees no separation between people and nature. In order to respect and care for the people, one must respect and care for nature. Many groups equate nature, both biotic and abiotic, as family members, or as an extension of themselves. Indigenous people around the world continue to manage natural resources for both the benefit of themselves and for ecosystem function.

Contrary to popular belief, Indigenous nations of California were not all hunter-gatherers. Many Indigenous tribes stayed in one area and used a variety of land management techniques to ensure generational survival. They viewed the use of fire as a tool given to them by their ancestors to fulfill their responsibility to the land and was one of many ways to simultaneously care and manage the world around them. Practices such as pruning, planting, and burnings maintained habitat for wildlife and produced food, tools, and space for the community. Through cultivation practices, habitats were formed and supported a wide range of species, all which also played an important role in maintaining the ecosystem. Together as a family, people and wildlife aid in each other’s survival and prosperity.

The health and abundance of trees is integral to Indigenous communities’ way of life. Trees, like all plants, have numerous physical, nutritional, and spiritual uses. The California Buckeye (Aesculus californica) nut’s contain tannins that were used to fish, its poisonous husks wrapped in nets and thrown into rivers to stun the fish for easier catching. Willow (Salix ssp.) bark provided medicine for pain and stomach ailments. Aspirin (salicylic acid) was developed using salicin from willow bark in the 1800s. Willow branches are also good for basketry and have been traditionally used to make cradle boards for infants and backrests. The inner bark of the California sycamore (Plantanus racemosa) can be used for medical tonics, its giant leaves used to wrap breads before baking, and limbs were used to construct housing. The strong, durable bark of the Coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) had many uses, including making houses and canoes. California flannelbush (Fremontedendon californica) bark can be made into strong fibers and its sap serves as a remedy for gastrointestinal distress. White oak, such as the Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) treats mouth sores, coughs, and dried skin. Pacific Madrones (Arbutus menziesii) provided both food and balms to staunch bleeding and decrease inflammation.

Coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)

Oak savannas were maintained by prescribed burning that kept open space between oak trees clear of understory build up. Fires reduced acorn weevil populations and generated a larger yield of acorns for harvest. Oak trees had many uses, but most importantly provided a valuable food source for Indigenous people. Research shows that acorns made up to 50% of their diets. The acorn preparation cycle is labor-intensive and forged strong cultural bonds to the land. The nuts are ground into powder, sifted, and ground again till soft. Acorn tannins make the seeds bitter and the flour needs to go through many rounds of straining through water to become more palatable. The flour can be baked into cakes, soups, and bread.

Indigenous people continue to fight for land sovereignty today. Although not everyone has the power to actually return land, we all have the power to advocate for Indigenous rights. Advocacy comes in many forms, from giving donations, to writing letters to policy makers, to sharing about Indigenous rights with the people around you. To learn more about the land you live on and which Indigenous nation is fighting for their rights, go to

Additional Resources:

Native Land: Online map created by Native Land Digital, a Canadian nonprofit, to “create and foster conversations about the history of colonialism, Indigenous ways of knowing, and settler-Indigenous relations.”

Muwekma Ohlone: Official website of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area.  The present-day Muwekma Ohlone Tribe is comprised of all of the known surviving American Indian lineages aboriginal to the San Francisco Bay region who trace their ancestry through the Missions Dolores, Santa Clara, and San Jose; and who were also members of the historic Federally Recognized Verona Band of Alameda County.

Ramaytush Ohlone: Website of the original people of what is now San Francisco County, referred to today as the Yelamu, an independent tribe of the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples. The southern boundary of their tribal territory was fairly consistent with the current San Francisco/San Mateo county line. There are no known living descendants of the Yelamu. 

Can You Say It in Mutsun? Blog post from the Peninsula Open Space Trust introducing Mutsun names of local trees. Among the four distinct, contemporary Native communities within San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties — the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, the Tamien Nation, the Ramaytush Ohlone and the Muwekma Ohlone—the Mutsun language is considered one of the best documented and preserved. 

Land Acknowledgmnts in the Academy – Refusing the Settler Myth An April 2021 article by Joe Wark, an Anishinaabe and social work doctoral student, in the journal Curriculum Inquiry.

A Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgment: Publication from the Native Governance Center, a Native-led nonprofit dedicated to assisting Native nations in strengthening their governance systems and capacity to exercise sovereignty.

Honor Native Land: A guide and call to land acknowledgment from the U.S. Department of Land and Culture.

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