The Ohlone Have Never Forgotten, and We Are Remembering

Justice Funders
Justice Funders
Published in
6 min readFeb 16, 2024

Learning about my family’s wealth and history helped me clarify what’s needed to move toward repair. The audio version is available at this link.

Written by Tara Brown, Board Treasurer and former Executive Director of Hidden Leaf Foundation

Tara began her work for transformational social change with a Master's Degree in Integral Anthropology (after ten years working in international community development). For six years, she then directed the Institute for Deep Ecology which articulates a mind/body/spirit worldview addressing many of today’s pressing social and environmental quandaries, and then directed Hidden Leaf for 17 years. During this time, she also helped co-found the Seasons Fund for Social Transformation, a collaborative fund advancing transformative leadership for movement building.

Black and white photo of Tara Brown as a young child climbing a tree.

I have always had a real love for the Brown family and for our many generations in California; it is only recently that I woke up to the fact that I know very little about our family history and our relationship to this land.

Looking Into Our History

My father grew up on the Sacramento River Delta in a place called Walnut Grove. He went to UC Berkeley on an ROTC scholarship and soon after stumbled into commercial real estate in the San Francisco East Bay. I thought our family’s wealth and relationship to land started there, but as I learned more about my family’s migration to this land alongside the history of the dispossession of Indigenous people from their land, it became clear that although ours might be “new wealth,” it’s built on years of generational white privilege and the deep disruption of other cultures.

In the mid-1800s, my family came to California in horse drawn carriages, joining other white settlers on their sometimes violent journeys west. Others came on steamships that sailed down past the tip of South America. Most of my ancestors first arrived in the East Bay and eventually made their way up the Sacramento Delta.

My relatives were small farmers who became large commercial farmers and produce sellers who became grocery store owners. My people were also bank lenders who facilitated other white farmers and businessmen in developing land throughout the Sacramento Valley.

While I haven’t found the particulars yet, I have to assume that my family benefited deeply from white privilege and systems that allow people who “look like me” to move with ease into positions of power. And that the land my family acquired and built wealth upon was land held sacred by the Lisjan Ohlone and other Indigenous peoples. We know that for thousands of years, Lisjan Ohlone villages have been on this land and that Lisjan Ohlone people continue to fight to be on this land. This land undoubtedly was not given freely.

This part of my family lineage exploration has been about awkward truth telling, finding our relatedness even in its discomfort, and remembering who we are and how we belong.

The Ohlone have never forgotten, and we are remembering.

Aligning with Indigenous Sovereignty and Moving into Action

In 2021, my family’s foundation, the Hidden Leaf Foundation, received an invitation to give Shuumi to the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust.

Sogorea Te’ Land Trust is an urban Indigenous women-led land trust based in the San Francisco Bay Area that facilitates the return of Indigenous land to Indigenous people. The Shuumi Land Tax is a voluntary annual contribution that non-Indigenous people living on the Confederated Villages of Lisjan Ohlone territory can make to support the critical work of rematriation.

“Rematriation is Indigenous women-led work to restore sacred relationships between Indigenous people and our ancestral land, honoring our matrilineal societies, and in opposition of patriarchal violence and dynamics.”

— Sogorea Te’ Land Trust

We at Hidden Leaf were asked to give Shuumi because we live and work in the Bay Area. This ask stirred me to think further not just about my life and work in the Bay Area, but to consider the decades of impact my ancestors have had on this land, the original land of the Ohlone people.

Sogorea Te’ Land Trust calls on us all to heal and transform the legacies of colonization, genocide, and patriarchy and to do the work our ancestors and future generations are calling us to do.

Philanthropic institutions, as stewards of wealth that has been accumulated through the extraction of Indigenous lands and total disruption of Indigenous cultures, have a particular responsibility to contribute to the healing of the lands they occupy and to enter into a restorative relationship with their local Indigenous communities.

A locally oriented and relationship-based approach is essential. Paying Indigenous land and honor taxes is one step in a long-term process of healing, action, and repair.

After I learned about giving Shuumi, I brought the idea to Supriya Lopez Pillai, Executive Director of Hidden Leaf, and together we brought it to the board. It’s kind of amazing; when ideas and actions are in alignment with values, the process flows with ease! With almost no hoopla, Hidden Leaf’s board and staff committed to giving Shuumi annually; in addition, we gave our first-ever “asset transfer” of $500,000 — leagues larger than our typical grants. For Hidden Leaf, an asset transfer, unlike a grant, recognizes the history of land extraction; it is a transfer back of a tiny fraction of the wealth accumulated over generations on indigenous land. No proposal was necessary; no reporting; just a transfer-back of wealth.

Likewise, we consider the land tax an administrative fee back to the original people of the land we work on. It is not a grant. Supriya and our finance folks thus worked out how to account for it with hopes of setting a precedent and beginning to change financial practices. We had to get creative and imagine actions beyond the status quo.

The Gift

Hidden Leaf’s work is essentially about our interconnectedness. For me, waking up to the harsh impact on others of my family’s generational land- and wealth accumulation has been both humbling and connecting. Sogorea Te’ gave me a profound gift by opening my eyes and heart to deeper truths of our current moment and my relationship to indigenous lives and land, past, current, and future.

It has deepened my personal sense of interrelatedness in space and time, with people and place, with family and “other,” with harsh realities and loving vulnerabilities. I give thanks.

Since this initial foray into giving to an indigenous land trust, Hidden Leaf and other Brown family members are considering and have given additional funds for indigenous rematriation of land. And yet, I still feel very new to this — my relationship with my own and others’ histories, my responsibility to staying awake and in connection despite discomfort, and my commitment to taking bold action that is deeply aligned.

Inviting You to Join Us in Solidarity

We join Kathryn Gilje of Ceres Trust, Faiza Bukhari of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, and others who are sharing their stories about undergoing this transformational process within our foundations.

We encourage philanthropies across the U.S. to learn whose land you are on, support your local Indigenous communities, and pay land taxes where your staff, board of directors, grantees, and offices are located.

The Indigenous Solidarity Network compiled this ​​Resource Guide for Indigenous Solidarity Funding Projects: Honor Taxes & Real Rent Projects. You can also check out the Shuumi Land Tax for Foundations resource page.

If you too are with a Bay Area philanthropic institution and are seeking support with paying institutional Shuumi Land Tax, please reach out to Ariel Luckey at Sogorea Te’ Land Trust (

Together we can heal with Indigenous communities and the land.

This will require remembering and course correcting our legacies of privilege and wealth accumulation. I look forward to learning with others as we cast back to find our way forward toward a more life-affirming future.

Please join us in giving Shuumi!



Justice Funders
Justice Funders

A partner and guide for philanthropy in re-imagining practices that advance a thriving and just world.