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Wed, Nov 22, 2023

Marla Novo

Marla Novo - Director of Exhibitions & Programs

Growing (a Garden) Together

Land Acknowledgment
The land on which we gather is the unceded territory of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi Tribe. The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, comprised of the descendants of Indigenous people taken to missions Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista during Spanish colonization of the Central Coast, is today working hard to restore traditional stewardship practices on these lands and heal from historical trauma.

You may know that the MAH’s back patio area is sometimes called the Secret Garden. It was a manicured section of trees and plants that invited museum guests to hang out and linger. But as a community space, we thought we could do better.

At the beginning of the pandemic, when the museum was closed for a year, we took a look at our outside spaces. We thought about the ongoing challenges we all face—from COVID to wildfires, racial inequity to political polarization. How could we use our open spaces—in this case the MAH’s Secret Garden—to foster deeper connections with each other and our surroundings? We imagined creating a space where we could learn, support one another, heal, and grow together.

On a smoke-filled afternoon during the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex fire, we met in the Secret Garden with Rick Flores. Rick is the Associate Director and Steward of UCSC’s Amah Mutsun Relearning Program and Associate of the Amah Mutsun Land Trust (AMLT). He shared that he talked with Chairman Valentin Lopez of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band about our outdoor space. Chairman Lopez and Rick thought our area could be a place to teach kinship or kincentricity—the indigenous belief that plants, animals, earth, air, water are alive, and that we are all in relationship with one and another—with the understanding that not one of these things are more important than the other. Out of that conversation came the MAH’s project, Kincentricity: Growing Community Through Learning Gardens.

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Courtesy of Amah Mutsun Land Trust

In the months that followed, our friends at the AMLT guided us. It’s through this important partnership that this month we started to landscape our back patio, readying it to grow and maintain native plants.They shared knowledge and collaborated on how we could best share this idea of kincentricity. We decided on plants that told stories, ones that prompted conversation, and ones that are pollinators, inviting hummingbirds and other creatures to the space. We also wanted them to be beautiful and smell lovely.

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Courtesy of Amah Mutsun Land Trust

The AMLT stewards selected blue elderberry, mugwort, Ohlone manzanita, coyote mint, fuchsia, bush poppy, ladies tobacco, and yerba buena to name a few. It’s a work in progress to see what plants will thrive in the garden. We will adjust as we go. The AMLT stewards will also help us with signage that shares more information about the plants. We hope our kincentricity garden will be an extension of the learning that happens inside the MAH, encouraging visitors to explore the MAH’s History Gallery’s newly remodeled Indigenous Peoples section as well as other parts of the MAH.

We hope our new Kincentricity Garden will be a link to other native plant gardens in our area: UCSC Arboretum, Amah Mutsun Relearning Program (AMRP); Pie Ranch; Castle Rock State Park; and San Juan Bautista Native Garden. The AMLT designed and installed these gardens to celebrate the ethnobotanical history of the California Coast. We don’t want our garden to be a “secret” anymore.

Maybe the MAH’s Kincentricity Garden will invite you to be curious about native plants, honor indigenous wisdom, and support the many efforts of the Amah Mutsun Land Trust. Maybe it will encourage you to create your own kinship garden in your backyard or other shared spaces. We can imagine kincentricity gardens throughout our community as a way to learn and grow together.

We are grateful for the funding for this project provided through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Museums for America program. Kincentricity is a multiphase project taking place over a 3-year period, between September 2021-August 2024.