“íyo’toróvim yaraarkokre ‘eyoo’ooxono (We the Caretakers Remember our Land)” bridged Indigenous oral history with intercultural music performance. Held at Garrison Theater on Oct. 7, the performance was constructed with the guidance of the Gabrielino-Shoshone Tribal Council, an intertribal coalition with ancestral lands in present-day Claremont. The Indigenous speakers’ words were accompanied by a live music ensemble.
The event was organized with the help of Hao Huang, a professor of music at Scripps College. Huang, who has done fieldwork with Native American music for 28 years, visualized Scripps Presents as a crucial channel to promote involvement and open communication between the Claremont community and the Gabrielino-Shoshone Tribe.
“It’s time for us to listen instead of talk or write, it’s time for us to pay attention to the stories these people have to share with us … A land acknowledgement is not enough,” Hao Huang said.
Javier Ramirez, tribal spiritual leader and advisor, opened with a blessing and chant before the performance. Local Indigenous speakers Donald Rodriguez and Tina Orduno Calderon, as well as Miguel Ordeñana, a non-Indigenous ally, expressed their perspectives on inequities, spiritual practices and the resilience of their tribe. A live music ensemble backed their oral testimonies with a meld of live electronic synths, violin and percussion instruments.
Marcella Castrejon, executive director and tribal secretary of education & records, spoke on the importance of hearing Indigenous experiences firsthand.
“Why not bring the example of what we want people to see instead of seeing it in a book or reading what it’s about?” she said.
Donald Rodriguez shared his reflections from his social work as an advocate for the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a law which gives tribal governments exclusive jurisdiction over the placement of Indigenous children. He underscored the severity of systemic inequity for Indigenous children in America, citing the statistic that their children are overrepresented in the foster care system at a rate 2.7 times greater than their proportion in the United States’ population.
“Some of these history books share that our tribe and the indigenous people of LA County are no longer here,” Rodriguez said. “So we hope that this allows people to realize that we are still here. Come, get to know us and let’s work together to figure out how to work on society’s ills.”
Rodriguez highlighted how false perceptions of the Indigenous community stem from stereotypical depictions of their people in elementary school curriculum. He also touched on how many federal systems, including the child welfare system, don’t account for children from non-federally recognized tribes such as the Gabrielino-Shoshone.
“You are now held accountable,” Rodriguez said to the audience. “You can’t claim you didn’t know about [these atrocities].”
“It’s time for us to listen instead of talk or write, it’s time for us to pay attention to the stories these people have to share with us … A land acknowledgement is not enough.”
The synths and violin provided ambient music and vacillated in accordance to the intricacies of the speakers’ vocal cadences. Micah Huang, music director and member of the music ensemble, highlighted the importance of constant connection with the speaker.
“With each of us honoring different instruments and as an ensemble, we have to try out and make choices about how we respond to various turns that the speaker’s testimony tends to take,” Huang said.
Miguel Ordeñana, an ally and wildlife biologist, recalled his upbringing in Griffith Park. Upon visualizing his neighborhood as an expansive space of abundant wildlife — contrary to the popular understanding of Los Angeles — he devoted his career to promoting peaceful coexistence between humans and animals.
Inspired by his principles of Indigenous land management, Ordeñana also discovered the famed P-22 mountain lion in 2012.
Tina Orduno Calderon, culture bearer and tribal singer, honored her ancestors’ traditions and intimate connection to the environment. As she told stories about the sacredness of water, the ensemble imitated streams of water, wind and wildlife with chimes. The intricate soundscape intertwined with her narration created an immersive atmosphere that made her words come alive.
“My ancestors … gave us those teachings about living in reciprocity with the lands, the waters, the plant relatives, the minerals and all of the elements,” she said. “There was life here before humankind ever broke his lands. Think about the microbes in the moment that we found that soil is alive, that water has a spirit, that all of these plants came before us, animals came before us.”
Calderon ended with a reading of her original poem “Star Journey.” She described the connection to her ancestors as vibrations and illuminations in her soul.
After the event concluded, the indigenous speakers and instrumentalists embraced in laughter and joy, acting as a living testament to the performance’s goals: community-building, asserting indigenous autonomy, improving allyship and educating the Claremont community on the lands they are living on.
“We’re still here and the fact that we come in many different shapes, sizes, colors and creeds that you can’t just make an assumption of what you think an indigenous person is,” Rodriguez said. “It brings us out of this kind of mystery that we no longer exist.”