2023 EXPRESS: Exploration of Central California Coast (AUV and Mapping)


At Sea, Land Acknowledgements Still Apply

During NOAA Ocean Exploration’s 2023 EXPRESS: Exploration of Central California Coast expedition, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer traveled through the waters adjacent to the ancestral lands of numerous California tribes. As a member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation and the expedition’s at-sea science team, Mia Lopez felt strongly about acknowledging and honoring the traditional stewards of the waters upon which we sailed and within which we explored.

Expedition Coordinator Sam Cuellar and Mia Lopez in the control room of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
First Livestream Event
Expedition Coordinator Sam Cuellar and Mia Lopez in the control room of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer preparing for the first livestream event to acknowledge and honor the traditional stewards of the waters off the central California coast. Image courtesy of NOAA Ocean Exploration, 2023 EXPRESS: Exploration of Central California Coast. Download largest version (jpg, 1.55 MB).

In support of this effort, the expedition team directed resources and dedicated time for Mia to conduct a series of events broadcast live over the internet via telepresence. The primary purpose of these events was to recognize the traditional caretakers of these waters. The secondary purpose was to speak with tribal representatives about what’s important to them about their ancestral waters and our shared ocean and bring a new perspective to scientific work. Recurring themes of these discussions included the importance of bringing together Indigenous knowledge and Western science to protect and sustainably manage the ocean and of getting to know and supporting our tribal neighbors.

"Just like this ship is mapping the ocean so that we can learn more about what’s beneath us that we don’t see, there’s a lot that’s around you that you don’t see, as well. So, let’s take a little tip from Okeanos Explorer and take a deeper look at where we are, too." — Mia Lopez

The map on this page shows general offshore locations associated with the tribes Mia was able to directly acknowledge during this expedition and links to video clips of her acknowledgements along with summaries of her conversations. She wasn’t able to speak with representatives from all the Indigenous communities along the central California coast, but she offered the following general acknowledgement to the other tribes, councils, clans, and bands that still remain in their territories and protect the region’s land and waters to honor them and pay respects to their elders, the people of today, and future generations.

Please join me in acknowledging these lands and waters and the people of these lands and waters that we currently sit upon.

Our elders, both past, and present as well as our youth who are the elders of our future. I stand here today to acknowledge and give voice to our unceded, stolen lands and declare our tribal sovereignty.

Please take a moment to remember that the lands and waters you seek to protect or impact were founded upon exclusions and erasures of many Indigenous peoples, including those on whose lands and waters these projects are located.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask you all to reflect on how the work you do here today, and everyday, in your chosen fields, affects these lands and waters as well as the peoples of these lands and waters where you work and live.

As you work together on these lands and waters that support not only your livelihoods, recreation, lifestyles, research, advocacy and education, please remember that the Indigenous peoples of this area have been separated from their lands, unable to maintain livelihoods as they should, unable to recreate traditionally, unable to maintain their traditional lifeways freely, and unable to have the same access to their lands that you are provided, to do their own traditional research and educate their future generations.

Many of the projects, research and advocacy done by NOAA and Okeanos Explorer here today are within traditional territory of Indigenous peoples and/or affect other Indigenous peoples in their territories, and each tribe, council, clan, and band has been working diligently for generations to restore and continue their traditional stewardship practices on these lands and heal from this historical trauma that has touched us all.

The damage that has been done and continues to be done by not sharing the true history and legacy of the original people in this place and others, and by the exploitation of the natural cultural resources of these areas, can never be erased; there is no mitigation or research project that can make our communities whole again. But together today, we can do better!

As friends and allies, together, we can acknowledge the mistakes and atrocities of the past and move forward in remembrance and relationship with the local Indigenous peoples. We can commit to advocate to ensure that our processes here, and everywhere we are, make room for Indigenous voices to be heard, value and listen to traditional ecological knowledge, and create opportunities for Indigenous people to be a part of the healing of these lands and waters, as well as ourselves.

This acknowledgment demonstrates not only a commitment by NOAA and Okeanos Explorer, but a call to action to all of you, to begin the process of creating a relationship with the local Indigenous communities around you and work to dismantle the ongoing legacies of settler colonialism.

He’lo kal antikič — Water is life!

October 22, 2023: Kashia Band of Pomo Indians

During this first live event, Mia introduced herself and her plans for the week and acknowledged the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, who have called the coast of today’s Sonoma County, California, home for more than 12,500 years. Unfortunately, Tribal Chairman Reno Franklin was unable to join her as he was returning from a ceremony, so she spoke with Alicia Cordero, her cousin and first nations officer of the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation. She thanked Alicia, the Wishtoyo foundation, and NOAA for providing her with this opportunity aboard Okeanos Explorer. The two discussed the connection of Indigenous peoples to life on Earth and within its ocean. Like many Indigenous peoples, they recognize this life as their relatives and want us to understand and respect that everywhere we go, any research we do, we are working with their families. Video courtesy of NOAA Ocean Exploration, 2023 EXPRESS: Exploration of Central California Coast. Download largest version (mp4, 35 MB)

October 24, 2023: Muwekma Ohlone Tribe

On this day, Mia acknowledged the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area and shared her connection to the Ohlone people as a descendant of the region’s Ramaytush Ohlone. In her conversation with Tribal Vice Chairwoman Monica Arellano and tribal member Gloria Gomez, she thanked them for protecting and giving voice to her ancestral homelands and offered her support. Monica greeted us in the native Chochenyo language, welcomed us to their ancestral homelands, and thanked Mia for her kind words and the opportunity to speak about the Muwekma Ohlone’s efforts to revitalize their culture, starting with their language and dances, through the Muwekma Ohlone Preservation Foundation and regain their status as, and receive the benefits of, a federally recognized tribe. As part of these efforts they are looking to build a community and partner with other entities to learn more and educate the public about their history, traditional practices, land, and waters — tribal lands don’t stop at the shore — and to work together to protect our shared places. Video courtesy of NOAA Ocean Exploration, 2023 EXPRESS: Exploration of Central California Coast. Download largest version (mp4, 311 MB)

October 25, 2023: Amah Mutsun Tribal Band

Joining Mia today from shore was Valentin Lopez, chairman and elder of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. Following Mia’s acknowledgement of the Amah Mutsun, Val spoke about the tribe’s history in the greater Monterey Bay area, which dates back 15-20,000 years or more. He shared part of their creation story, in which the creator gave them the responsibility to take care of Mother Earth and all living things. To this day, they take this responsibility very seriously, developing and maintaining very intimate relationships with plants, wildlife, and the land. They also understand the extreme importance of ocean resources, and today, the tribe is working hard to return to the path of their ancestors, to steward the land and the ocean in sustainable ways. As part of the Tribal Marine Stewardship Network, the Amah Mutsun are working with other tribes to restore traditional stewardship and other practices and spirituality to the coast, and they invite others to join them. Video courtesy of NOAA Ocean Exploration, 2023 EXPRESS: Exploration of Central California Coast. Download largest version (mp4, 108 MB)

October 26, 2023: Salinan Tribe

Mia’s guest couldn’t make it today, but she didn’t want to miss the opportunity to acknowledge the Salinan Tribe of California’s central coast and their Chairwoman Mary Rodgers. Mia reminded us that each tribe, council, clan, and band is working hard to restore traditional stewardship practices and relationships on their lands. And, they are working together. Tribal territories are not firmly delineated; edges blend where territories — and sometimes resources, customs, and even families — are shared. Mia used her time to issue a call to action to begin the process of creating a relationship with our local Indigenous communities, wherever we may be. She encouraged us to make room for all Indigenous voices to be heard, their traditional knowledge of these territories be listened to, and their people to be a part of the healing of the land and water. Finally, she urged us to listen to the ocean and the waters that feed it, to get back into (or form) a relationship with nature and take care of her (e.g., join or start a coastal cleanup). Video courtesy of NOAA Ocean Exploration, 2023 EXPRESS: Exploration of Central California Coast. Download largest version (mp4, 137 MB)

October 27, 2023: Chumash Nation

Fittingly, for her last event, Mia acknowledged her own Chumash tribal relatives and spoke about the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Joining her were Gianna Patchen and Michael Khus from the Northern Chumash Tribal Council and Steve Palumbi from Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station. Gianna shared that NOAA received almost 100,000 comments during the public comment period for the proposed sanctuary. She thanked the many partners and individuals who shared their knowledge and thoughts on what the sanctuary should look like and voiced their connections to the waters. While these connections varied, one thing was clear: these waters are so important on many levels. Michael gave us a glimpse into why they are important to him, describing his familial ties to this "wild and beautiful place" and his experience as a paddler of tomols, the traditional plank canoe of the Chumash people. Steve connected this cultural symbol of the Chumash with his modern-day work in the proposed sanctuary. His project, which is in collaboration with the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, involves collecting and analyzing environmental DNA (eDNA) samples from the ocean to better understand its health and biodiversity. Among the collection tools are tomols, which enable citizen scientists, including Mia and her son Joseph, to actively contribute to the effort. Video courtesy of NOAA Ocean Exploration, 2023 EXPRESS: Exploration of Central California Coast. Download largest version (mp4, 140 MB)

Published March 7, 2024