The Dakota Access pipeline. Junípero Serra’s canonization. These issues lit a fuse, urging Alexii Sigona to action.
A member of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, Sigona is among the descendants of the Ohlone people who first lived around the San Francisco Bay as long as 10,000 years ago. He grew up in Redwood City, and like many other young Native people today, he didn’t have a strong connection to his heritage. “I remember, when I was seven, telling people I was ‘bologna,’ realizing later that it was ‘Ohlone,’” Sigona says with a laugh.
The 2023 Local Hero Award Winners
Every year, the Bay Nature board chooses four community-nominated leaders who make the Bay Area “more inclusive, joyful, and filled with nature,” as our editor-in-chief, Victoria Schlesinger, writes in the Spring 2023 Issue of Bay Nature. Here, you can meet this year’s Local Heroes:
Stu Weiss, Conservation Action Award
Blanca Hernández, Environmental Educator Award
That all changed when Sigona saw his great-uncle, Tribal Chairman Valentin Lopez, speak out against the canonization of Junípero Serra, the Spanish priest who brought the mission system to much of California. His great-uncle’s defiance helped galvanize Sigona. In 2016, he emailed Chairman Lopez, seeking to learn more about his people.
Since then, Sigona’s life has become a whirlwind of advocacy, stewardship, and political representation. Now a fourth-year PhD student at UC Berkeley studying Native land stewardship and collaborative conservation, Sigona splits his time between his thesis, advocating for Native land rights as chair of the Amah Mutsun Land Trust’s Lands Committee, and making space for young Native people to find community through the Amah Mutsun youth group.
Sigona envisions a more sustainable future—one in which Native people can more easily access their ancestral lands.
Five years ago, he spent a summer at the Quiroste Valley Cultural Preserve, near Año Nuevo Point, in San Mateo County, with the Amah Mutsun Land Trust’s Native Stewardship Corps. They helped remove Douglas firs that had grown too numerous and tightly clustered during a century of fire suppression.
“It was the first time that I even comprehended that there is this way of caring for land,” says Sigona. At first, he struggled to reconcile the removal of Douglas firs, a native California species, but came to see the stewards’ work as “a way of decolonizing the landscape.” Removing the firs allowed greater ecological diversity and cultural opportunity for Native people.
This access to Native stewardship—restorative in a number of ways—is what Sigona hopes to facilitate for others. “I see myself as someone that has the opportunity, and maybe the responsibility, to shake things up in the spaces that I’m able to navigate,” Sigona says. And, as Chairman Lopez wrote in response to Sigona’s 2016 email, “We’ve been waiting.”
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