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Language is tied to history, politics, culture, and identity. The glossary below is provided to help readers navigate the complexities of key terms and concepts essential to understanding Ohlone heritage, not to flatten out or erase that complexity. This is not an exhaustive list, and definitions are not meant to be authoritative but rather generative and insightful, representing the perspectives of project collaborators and the ways they name and narrate Ohlone history and heritage.

Please note that some of these terms are included as terms to avoid because they are offensive or inaccurate; those terms are marked with an asterisk.

A settlement near present-day Pleasanton that was home to many Ohlone families (and people from other Native Californian tribal backgrounds who married into them) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Survivors of Missions San Jose, Santa Clara, and San Francisco, the community was composed of “multilingual [descendants] who spoke Spanish as their common language as well as one among many mutually intelligible Ohlone languages or languages from Yokutsan, Miwokan, or other families” (Field, Levanthal and Cambra 2013, 7). The community was recognized by the US federal government as the “Verona Band of Alameda County.”

A period of settler-colonial activity inaugurated by pronounced racism and state-sanctioned violence against Native Californians that was perpetrated from the 1840s into the 1860s. An infamous example is Governor Peter H. Burnett’s declaration during a speech in 1851 that a “war of extermination” would be waged against Native Californians.

An anthropological term for a relatively small-scale autonomous community. As used in California, it was “a term that, for the Indian agents as well as for academic anthropologists of the time, signified a coherent, sociocultural community featuring informal leadership, kinship-based internal organization, and a varying degree of collective ownership over (always dwindling) resources” (Field and Muwekma 2003)

A preferred identifier for many Native individuals in California, reflecting the specificity of California Native culture and colonial experiences.

A major Native language group in the eastern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area (East Bay), which is now the subject of cultural revival by the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe Language Revitalization Committee and other language revitalization groups in the Bay Area. Key twentieth-century speakers of Chochenyo included Jose Guzman and Angela Colos, two Ohlone elders interviewed by anthropologist J. P. Harrington in the 1920s. ( The term itself is likely a colloquial word for the Native residents of Mission San Jose, who would have been called “Joseños” during the mission period (similar to Clareños for the residents of Mission Santa Clara).

This term is derived from the Spanish Costaños, or coastal people, and was applied to the Native inhabitants of the greater San Francisco Bay region by anthropologists and other outside observers. Some Ohlone people today find it offensive.

Digger is a pejorative word comparable to the n-word (Medina 2014).

'Good day' in Chochenyo, the language of the Ohlone (Source: Muwekma Ohlone Tribe (MOT) Chochenyo Dictionary)

Any of the many self-governing Native American/American Indian communities throughout the United States. (source: Wikipedia)

Ceremonial religious dancers. Kuksu was the primary precolonial religion in central California, including the San Francisco Bay area. Though it was suppressed during the mission period, the Ohlone residents of Alisal continued to practice Kuksu into the late nineteenth century. Big Head dances are a cultural practice that is being revitalized by present-day Ohlone tribal members (

A period of Mexican control of what is now the State of California, marked most notably by the secularization of the missions in the 1830s and the subsequent dispersal of mission lands through governmental land grants. Most mission lands were acquired by non-Natives, but four grants were given to Ohlone men from Mission Santa Clara while Ohlones from Mission San Jose entered into less formal arrangements with local Californio colonists.

A California Indian who lived at a mission

Period of active missionization in Alta California. Though many associate the end of the mission period with the secularization decrees of 1834, most missions–including Mission Santa Clara–continued operating in various capacities well into the 1840s. Mission San Jose were still baptizing Muwekma children until 1920, and burying their dead in the Ohlone cemetery as late as 1925.  Muwekma children were sent to the Saint Joseph Orphanage through the 1920s.

A word meaning “la gente,” or “the people” in Chochenyo and Tamien, the Ohlone languages spoken in the East and South San Francisco Bay regions (

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. The aboriginal homeland of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe includes the following counties: San Francisco, San Mateo, most of Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, and portions of Napa, Santa Cruz, Solano and San Joaquin. This large contiguous geographical area, which historically crosscuts aboriginal linguistic and tribal boundaries, fell under the sphere of influence of the aforementioned three missions between 1776 and 1836. The missionization policies deployed by the Catholic Church and militarily supported by the Hispanic Empire, brought many distantly related, and in some cases, already inter-married tribal groups together at the missions (Muwekma).

This term refers to Native people who had received the rite of baptism, originating in the Spanish terms neófita and neófito. It also represented the condition of neófia, which has been described as a condition of unfreedom given that Native neophytes in California were subject to mission labor demands, punishments, and restrictions on movement.

This term is often used to refer to Native groups speaking similar languages and whose ancestral territories stretch between San Francisco and the Carquinez Straits in the north to the Salinas Valley and Monterey Bay in the south. However, it is often helpful to specify that only the San Francisco Bay Ohlone have genealogical ties to Mission Santa Clara and the lands of the SCU campus. Historically, this ethnonym was only used by Native people living in the southeastern Bay Area, near the ex-mission of San José, and who trace their lineages through Missions San Francisco, San José, and Santa Clara. This usage is reflected in BIA applications as far back as 1928-1932.

Located in Fremont, which contains over 4,000 burials from Native people associated with Mission San Jose.

The non-profit tribal organization under the leadership of the Galvan family, which holds the title for and maintains the historic Ohlone Indian Cemetery located in Fremont, which contains over 4,000 burials from Native people associated with Mission San Jose.

A historical designation marking the long period of Native Californian history (some 13,000 years) prior to European exploration, preferred to the term prehistoric, which suggests that history begins with colonization and that Native Californian history culture is outside of history and remembrance.

A term referring to private cattle ranches that sprang up all over California during the Mexican period (though some were active under Spanish rule). Typically, the ranchos were established on plots of previously mission-held lands granted by the Mexican government. Like the missions, the ranchos relied on Native Californian labor to operate. Though most did not require religious or cultural assimilation, the labor demands were often exploitative. Most Native laborers were paid with goods rather than money.

A Spanish word originally used by explorers to designate a territorial unit or region composed of several villages, their outliers (ceremonial shrines, cemeteries and specialized task sites), and their associated natural resources (Arellano et al 2014). In the mission period, the term could refer both to autonomous villages as well as the Native neighborhoods associated with each mission. More recently, rancheria was used by US Indian agents to refer to the small homesteads where Native Californian families and groups maintained connection and community from the mission period through to present times (Field and Muwekma 2003). Today, the term is commonly used to denote a range of Native village and neighborhood sites in California.

A period of Spanish colonization marked by recruitment, conversion, and forced labor of Native Californians into the Spanish mission system

"Termination" was an explicit policy on the part of the United States government toward American Indian tribes, particularly in the 1950s & 1960s. The Ohlone community at Alisal (known to the government as the Verona Band of Alameda County) was unilaterally denied land by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1927, but they were not "terminated" in the technical and legal sense.

A Native term for the area around the first site of Mission Santa Clara, as recorded in early colonial documents. Today, the term refers more generally to the portions of the Santa Clara Valley where the Thámien language dialect was spoken. The Tamien Station of the Caltrain and VTA is named after a large nearby village site and dedicated to the Muwekma Ohlone.

A tall sedge or bulrush that grows in dense stands along freshwater wetlands, used to construct traditional Ohlone boats and homes (

Chochenyo word for round house or dance house, a sacred Ohlone space. Also known as “temescal” in Mexican Spanish. (

Basket in Chochenyo. Basket weaving is a significant cultural practice, and one that is being revived by Ohlone tribal members (

Means “take care” in Chochenyo language (Source: Muwekma Ohlone Tribe (MOT) Chochenyo Dictionary)

The direct ancestors of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, residing near Pleasanton, Sunol and Niles (as well as other towns and ranches surrounding Mission San Jose) in the early twentieth century, who were Federally Acknowledged by the U.S. Government through the Appropriation Acts of Congress in 1906 and in later years, until their rights were illegally revoked in 1927 (



* marks terms to avoid