"Faith Keeper" Guards Native American Songs, Knowledge

John Roach
for National Geographic News
April 22, 2004




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When Patrick Orozco was a young boy, his grandmother Rose Rios taught him a song about a Native American man from a village called Cupakuwa who fell in love with a woman from another village known as Rumsen.

The couple met at a river between their homes. Those villages lie in the coastal rgion of what is now northern California.

The song includes many details of the landscape and the wild animals that lived there, according to Orozco. He says the song, which his grandmother learned from her elders, taught him about his people and the land they call home. The song also inspired his life's work.

Orozco is a faith keeper for the Ohlone, descendents of the original Costanoan Native American tribe that lived in an area stretching from just north of what is now San Francisco to Monterey, California.

Orozco said his grandmother told him: "You have learned all that was taught to me. Now you must go and ask other Indian elders that may know more. And after you have learned, you must go and teach our own, and then go and share with the non-Indians, so that they may know we are still here."

People of the Land

Following the direction of his grandmother, Orozco says he traveled throughout California to visit reservations, meet with tribal elders, witness sacred ceremonies, and learn the songs and stories that his people have told for millennia.

"There were songs for everything we had in life," he said. "We had great respect for the Great Spirit's creation. It all belonged to him. He is the creator. We had songs of coyote, deer, eagle, bear, bird."

Now, as he has for the past 18 years, Orozco—together with a song-and-dance group he put together called Ama Ka Tura, or "people of the land,"—shares this collected knowledge of the Ohlone with his own people and schoolchildren throughout California.

The songs serve as a reminder that the Ohlone are still here. "[I] am teaching our young and old all what I have learned," Orozco said. "And I can see that my elders and ancestors are smiling, for we are following their directions."

Song Survival

Continued on Next Page >>


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