Today I am speaking through the voices of my ancestors that go back 10,000 years. I want our collective voices
to be heard by them. I want people 10,000 years from now to hear our chants for total unity of all the Juaneno
people, for unity of all the indigenous people of the world. We are not alone in this time and space we occupy; the
entire world stands with us in the struggle to find peaceful unity.
All of humankind has grown accustomed to hear of only conflict and war. Never do we hear the cry for peace and
unity from government leaders or the media. It has become too easy and even fashionable to think of hatred
before love. Love is hard work. Hate has become too easy of a path for those leading the world today.
Some of us have gathered here to reinvigorate our love for family ties – ties lost by induced divisions, forced upon
us by years of unprecedented intimidation by federal government pressures. We have all heard the familiar cries
of divisive bickering, but it is time for reconciliation. We need to hear the following words, so that it is clear to
those we love:
“I never wanted to stop talking to you my sister, my brother. I never hated you. I always loved you deep in my
heart.” These are the real feelings that must bring us together. Peace, Love, and UNITY.
Many believe that this speaker should not talk about politics or be political. But the truth is, all knowledge is
political. I first saw those words written in that order by Estelle Freedman, founder of Feminist Studies at Stanford
University. "Some people complain feminism is 'just politics,'" Freedman said. "Well, so is democracy. We're part
of humanity, of humanism. All knowledge is political. We represent an analytical approach, and we won't deny our
connection to politics."
So, it seems to me that Juaneno unity is about seeking justice. And justice must come by way of federal
recognition, which is about our people’s sovereignty. Thus, we need to analyze what it all means to us in the
context of our identities and the long historical legacies that our ancestors of 10,000 years ago left us. What
legacies will we leave here for the next 10,000 years?
We have all gathered here today because deep in our hearts we share a common belief that unity will show the
federal government and generations to come, that we are not defeated; we will not fail our children and
grandchildren. We are not invisible and refuse to accept any false statements made by any officials that the
Acjachmen, Juaneno Band of Mission Indians are a divided people. We are living, breathing proof that unity is the
will of the people and no government, native or otherwise, can stand in our way.
A few weeks ago a young mother named Ruth Diaz asked, “What do I tell my children about who they are and
their history?” I found that to be a profound statement. We must all answer that question about ourselves. Who
are we? Is our history about a great people? Certainly, in the present, we should be proud that our actions here
today are positive ones, honest ones, filled with dignity and compassion, so that history can take note for the
young Diaz children – Angela, Josie, Juan – and for all the children of the tribe. Our future, this action, our call for
unity, is not a new tale or story, it is part of all humankind’s history. And that is what makes the magnitude even
more profound. Are we examples for all of humankind? Or are we just like everybody else in the world: bickering,
fighting over land, money, oil, casinos, and prestige? All those imaginary illusions that are always just out of the
grasp of the poor; those things that make countries bomb, kill and go to war.
I want our children to know that they are part of a great people. Our youth need to know how to accomplish it.
Langston Hughes, the renowned African American poet described what it takes to be a great poet. He said it like
“One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, ‘I want to be a poet--not a Negro poet,’ And
I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself. And I doubted then
that, with his desire to run away spiritually from his race, this boy would ever be a great poet.”
What this means for our Juaneno children is this: we need to be examples of a humbled greatness. We should
never be afraid of saying we want unity; humble enough to embrace each and every member, sharing with them
all the fruits of victory that united our ancestors against past conquers. These conquers could not annihilate
them, or us, from the face of this earth. We fought off the Spaniards, the Mexicans, and now we must fight
together or lose the battle for federal recognition. We can only blame ourselves because we will give the federal
government the excuse they are looking for. It is an old strategy – keep them divided and they will fail. As Hughes
might have said, we can’t run away from the spirituality of our ancestors.
Only a great people have the ability to survive after being invaded time and time again. We will not be great unless
we unite. Each of us must walk down the path our ancestors laid down. The path is for unity. We must make sure
that our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren follow that same path. For all of eternity the name
Acjachemen Nation, Juaneno Band of Mission Indians must be remembered as a people who understood the
meaning of real unity, practiced and taught others what real unity was and is all about.
Juanenos are everywhere you can imagine. There is not a single part of the American landscape that we have not
touched. And yet, America so far has pretended that we are absent from the classroom.
Here today the majority of us are ordinary people. We are truck drivers, students, working mothers, working
fathers. We are policewomen and policemen, teachers and more. Some of us are healthy and some are sick. But
we are here as one people celebrating a historical moment.
There are those that could not be here today. Some of them are ordinary people. There are many that have stayed
away because of tribal pressures. Some of them are our cousins. And still others not here have been or are in
Old Folsom, New Folsom, and Pelican Bay. I miss them too. And there are others that graduated form Boalt Law
School, Harvard University, and Stanford University.
We are the paradox of America’s injustice; they have seen us in the jail cells of the cruelest maximum prison to
the halls of the best universities, but they still make it seem as if we were all gone, as if we all died yesterday. And
what makes all these diverse backgrounds become one people is the fact they are all Juanenos and nobody can
ever take that away, from them or from us.
The federal government and the American society at large cannot ignore us. We have been here, living on this
land for so long, that simple logic dictates the truth for all eternity, we exist. We exist with or without a piece of
paper. With or with out federal recognition, we are here.
I remember an editor for the LA Times calling me at home one evening, I wrote for a local section. I had written
about education. I learned in a class at Cal State LA that education was a lifetime endeavor. From our first day to
our last we learn everyday. I had talked about how important it was to get a college education in the society we
live in. But I went on to say that the smartest man I ever met was a dropout. She called to say that it was a
contradiction and the readers would be confused.
I did not identify the man I said was the smartest, because most readers in the neighborhoods that read my
column could figure it out. The man was my father. She didn’t realize that I learned more from him than if I read a
million books. It was outside of the realm of her understanding of intellect, for her to ever imagine, that a man
with out a college degree could be so wise.
At one of the Harvard graduation ceremonies I attended, a native woman who was getting her PhD stood up and
spoke. It was not at the huge ceremony, not at the dormitory ceremony, but at a small native ceremony at the end
of the day. This small group was far from the fanfare and hoopla, where there was no press coverage or media to
record our history.
Over her graduation robe was draped a beautiful blanket. I could not take my eyes off it. It just missed touching
the floor. She said it was a very proud day. She was as proud of her blanket as she was her PhD from Harvard.
Her grandmother showed her mother, her mother showed her and she had sewed the blanket she wore.
Following the great tradition of her tribe added a special meaning to her life. That blanket defined her like no
As native people we know we are beautiful, artistic, intelligent, but the western world only examines their own
history and we are judged and defined by that definition of who they are, what they think is reality. So, repeatedly,
we are asked to prove ourselves in writing to the western philosophical paradigm. Bring me a piece of paper that
says you are who you are or you are nobody to them. Their vision of you and me is, without papers you do not
exist and will not be allowed to be a participant in the political domain that makes the decisions which directly
affect our lives, I mean our sovereignty, that is so long over due.
But no matter where we go, no matter our station in society, we will always be remembered in life, and in death,
as Acjachemen, the great Juaneno people.
Like the rest of humankind, we all seek self-definition, identity out side the parameters of the social systems set
up by the contemporary conquistadores. Every person, every women, child and man, has special ancestral
heritage that they wish to preserve and pass down to other generations because it has valuable traditions. It
carries the moral fiber of dignity that is the compass of the soul and spirit of humankind. It is more valuable than
gold, money or diamonds. We don’t want it melted down into a pot. We refuse the popular view that assimilation
is the absolute answer.
Our ancestors fought hard, at times they lived as slaves, some hung from ropes because they wanted to
preserve our culture. And some were shunned because they were to quick to accept the oppressor’s way of life.
And once again we are facing a similar dilemma, only today we know what is important. The most pressing being
loving each other first, then working out how our sovereign nation will be run and administered.
When I first mentioned the idea of unity now for Juanenos, my father, Joseph Raymond Bracamontes, was not in
total agreement. He asked me if I was trying to start a revolution by stirring things up. At first I thought he was
kidding when he said that to me. But like so many times before, his words made me think.
In the country we live in, or maybe the whole world, unity has become a subversive thought. It is like using a four
letter word. To a large degree I think most of the governments of the richer countries share the vision, “Don’t let
ordinary people unite.” For governments that seek to control peoples thoughts, their money, and all the land, they
just don’t want to share with the poor. They don’t want to share food, medicine, doctors, education or shelter.
They hate to give back what they stole from the indigenous people, the Indian people.
So it is not each other we should look so hard to find fault. It is this new world, this new society we must examine.
We must unite to teach them a new lesson in history. A lesson that is about a legacy of peace and unity.
We are not invisible and refuse to accept any image of us that portrays division.
We are living, breathing proof that unity is the will of the people and no government can stand in our way.
No government in this world can stand in the way of the people if they are united.
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|Juaneno Unity Speech
Given at Second Juaneno Unity Gathering (October 8, 2006)