Seventy-three-year-old Chief Tony Cerda is actively keeping alive the traditions of his Ohlone ancestors for future generations, because many people think the Ohlones don't exist anymore.
Chairman Cerda and members of the Costanoan Rumsen tribe will perform in the World Arts West Ethnic Dance Festival this summer.
"It's very important to us. It's very important because our main thing is for people to know that we're still here," says Cerda.
ABC7 caught up with Chief Cerda at the RJ Muna photography studio in San Francisco, where he and his family were part of a photo shoot for the festival.
Cerda's ancestors were among the original indigenous people of Northern California. Different tribes lived in villages around the San Francisco Bay Area to the Central Valley.
But, beginning in the late 1700s, their world changed when outsiders came in and refused to allow them to practice their religion. The Spanish missions converted them to Catholicism. Many were forced into servitude. Others were driven away or killed. Everyone wanted their valuable land.
"Our devastation came because of the Spaniards coming in, and then the mission system, and then after that the Mexicans took over when they won the war with Spain," says Cerda. "We got devastated by them. Then the Americans came in and that devastated us more. Then the 49ers come in with the gold mining."
It was such a terrible time for Native Americans that many denied their heritage and scattered.
"They'd rather claim being Mexican," says Cerda.
The Northern Ohlones were almost extinct by the early 1880s. But Cerda's ancestors, the Rumsen Ohlone tribe of Carmel, stayed together. Two-thousand of them now live in Pomona, California.
"We have our tribal council meetings, then we have our youth council meetings, then we have our sweat lodge meetings and our talking circles," says Cerda.
They can trace their family history back for centuries.
"We went as a group and we stayed as a group all this time," he says. "So we got all our linens and all our baptismal records and marriage recoreds, and that's what's kept us together."
Cerda's fifth generation great grandfather was baptized at Mission Dolores in San Francisco in 1811. The inside of the old mission is similar to the way it looked during the 1811 baptism. It has displays showing the type of huts built by Ohlones.
Chief Cerda would like to bring his tribe closer to the home of his ancestors in the greater Bay Area. He wants to leave a legacy for them and his family.
"We're a landless tribe without any money," says Cerda.
In the meantime, the Bay Area can experience an important piece of Ohlone history when Chief Cerda and his family visit San Francisco for the Ethnic Dance Festival.
The Rumsen Ohlone tribe will open a five-week ethnic dance festival at San Francisco City Hall on June 3. On June 18, they will be given an historic welcome by half dozen other tribes around the state at the California Indian Big Time Gathering at Yerba Buena Gardens.
>> Dance festival ticket information
>> California Indian Big Time Gathering information