Chief Philip also fired off a missive to the Native American occupiers, demanding (to no avail) that they vacate the island. (He viewed the non-Ohlone Indians as interlopers.) Andrew Galvan, then a teenager, typed the letter.

"Philip was a keeper of the oral traditions," says Santa Clara University anthropologist Russell Skowronek, who has known the family for years. "He and his [late] uncle Dario listened to the stories of their elder relatives and made sure they got passed along. It says a great deal about the role Andy has assumed for himself."

It's a role that hasn't always endeared Galvan to other Native Americans, including distant and not-so-distant relatives enrolled in the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, which claims San Francisco and much of the Bay Area as its native territory, and which for years has sought federal recognition. Cambra, the tribal chair, is Galvan's cousin.

The nonprofit cemetery in Fremont, which critics contend is operated as a Galvan family enterprise.
Ron Russell
The nonprofit cemetery in Fremont, which critics contend is operated as a Galvan family enterprise.
Mission Dolores curator Andrew Galvan at a traditional Indian house on the mission grounds.
Paolo Vescia
Mission Dolores curator Andrew Galvan at a traditional Indian house on the mission grounds.

In the late 1980s, after Stanford University started a trend among museums and other institutions by voluntarily repatriating hundreds of Native American skeletal remains held at the Stanford Museum to the Muwekma Ohlone, Galvan sided with those who criticized the move as detrimental to academic research.

He has also drawn scorn from fellow Indians for supporting the beatification (a step toward sainthood within the Roman Catholic Church) of Father Junipero Serra, the founder of California's missions, under whom Indians suffered greatly. Galvan "isn't afraid to be a lightning rod," says Gary Breschini, who owns Coyote Press in Salinas, which caters to archaeologists.

Such contrarian views help to explain Galvan's tenuous relationship with his Muwekma Ohlone relatives. In their respective spheres, Galvan and Cambra are arguably the Bay Area's most influential Native Americans. Yet, observers say, they have remained wary of each other since the day nearly 20 years ago when they first met — and sparred — during a forum at a UC Berkeley coffeehouse on the treatment of Indian skeletal remains.

With financial help from would-be Indian gaming investors, Cambra has spent much of her adult life battling the Bureau of Indian Affairs for federal recognition. After a decade-long court struggle, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., is expected to rule soon on whether the tribe will achieve its dream.

Galvan, by contrast, has sought to promote Native American interests from within the church, to which many of the Muwekma Ohlone belong. Notably, he and his family, including "Chief Philip" — despite their eligibility to do so — have never bothered to enroll in the tribe, and have at times even belittled it.

But the real source of the rivalry, observers say, stems from the Galvan family's control — to the exclusion of the tribe — of the small patch of land next to busy Interstate 680 in Fremont, where 11,000 Ohlone lay in unmarked graves.

Fenced off on two and a half tree-covered acres along a busy thoroughfare across from a strip mall, the Ohlone Cemetery resembles a quarantined (if well-kept) park. There's no entrance. Signs warn outsiders to keep out. There's little to announce the place other than a giant arch, erected in 1915, on which is inscribed "Ohlones."

It's a wonder that the cemetery is there at all.

Established in 1811 after the graveyard at nearby Mission San Jose became full, Mission Indians and their latter-day descendants were routinely laid to rest there for more than a century. As the Native American population dwindled, burials finally ceased in 1926, and the cemetery fell into disrepair.

Its longtime owner, the Oakland Diocese, treated the cemetery as surplus property, and in the early 1960s sold off a huge chunk of it. Houses, a private school, and a church were built atop what was originally a nine-acre burial ground. Even before that, part of the property closest to a creek had become a borrow pit. "Dirt for streets and roads, bones and all, was hauled away from there for years," says Mark Hylkema, a state parks archeologist for the Bay Area who formerly worked at Caltrans.

Enter the Galvan clan.

In 1964, Dolores Marine Galvan (Andrew Galvan's grandmother, and Cambra's aunt) helped to persuade Caltrans to reroute the then-unbuilt I-680 around what was left of the cemetery. At about the same time, she and her son, Philip, persuaded the city of Fremont to cancel plans to extend a street through it.

The diocese subsequently backed away from further development. Looking to unload the property, church officials were even amenable to its being nominated as a National Historical Monument. But "Chief Philip" nixed the idea, preferring that the federal government not have a say in the cemetery's future.

Instead, with the help of San Francisco couple Rupert and Jeanette Costo, the Galvans took a different tack. As scholar-activists associated with the (now-defunct) American Indian Historical Society, the Costos took on saving the cemetery as a crusade. In 1971 they arranged for the diocese to transfer ownership to the society.

A short time later, the historical society deeded the graveyard to the newly created Ohlone Indian Tribe, Inc. Its articles of incorporation list Philip Galvan, along with his mother and a brother (both deceased) as the original officers.

Since then, according to Cambra and others, the cemetery has come to operate as a Galvan family enterprise from which the tribe has been shut out. Some local Indians complain that they've been barred from interring their loved ones there.

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