Our Estuary

Explore Our Estuary

Our Estuary, the largest in western North America, encompasses San Francisco Bay and the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers in California. Unlike most estuaries, which typically spread out into a wide delta of braided channels where rivers meet the sea, the delta of the San Francisco Estuary is located more than 60 miles inland, trapped behind coastal ridges because rising seas flooded the Bay 10,000 years ago. Managers often divide this complex water body into two: the Bay and the Delta, or the upper and lower Estuary. However, it is all one system, connected by freshwater outflow to the Pacific and by the ebb and flow of ocean tides far upstream into the Delta.

About the Estuary

State of the Estuary Report

Indigenous People’s Acknowledgement 

Much of the work that the San Francisco Estuary Partnership and our environmental partners do is along the margins of the shoreline, with the understanding of its critical importance to the health and future sustainability of our Estuary. However, the Estuary’s shoreline, baylands, and uplands have been vital to the health and sustainability of Indigenous people for thousands of years, far predating modern efforts to respond to development, fill, population growth, and rising seas.

We honor and acknowledge the many Ohlone tribal groups and families, including the Ramaytush and Chochenyo, as well as the Coast and Bay Miwok, Southern Pomo, Wappo, and Patwin peoples as the rightful stewards of the lands on which we reside. Our work to protect and restore the margins of the Bay should acknowledge and be informed by the history of injustices, by the fact that we are working on the land of Native people who were forced to relocate, and by the fact that our work is often adjacent to or even on top of sacred cultural sites. Recognizing the intersections between wetland restoration, shoreline recreation, and historical sacred sites can facilitate opportunities throughout our Estuary to restore, create, and protect for multiple purposes. We do this work in good faith, knowing it is centrally important that we work toward repair, reconciliation, and reparations wherever possible.

Prior to colonization, Central California had the densest Indigenous population anywhere north of Mexico. Over 10,000 people lived in the coastal area between Point Sur and the San Francisco Bay, belonging to about 58 distinct tribal communities. There are several distinct Ohlone groups whose homelands collectively extended from north of the Carquinez Strait to Monterey in the south. The San Francisco Bay Area shoreline was once the site of over 425 shellmounds (Ohlone sacred burial sites), village sites, and ceremonial sites. Today, none of the Ohlone tribal groups have federal recognition, which (among other challenges) hinders their ability to protect their sacred sites.

We are working to build our capacity to be better stewards and allies to original peoples and disenfranchised communities across the Estuary. SFEP is engaged in training through the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, and we invite Indigenous people from anywhere in the Estuary to reach out to us to collaborate and identify opportunities for partnership.

Below is a list of resources to better inform and engage on these issues: 

Sogorea Te' Land Trust

The Sogorea Te’ Land Trust is an urban Indigenous women-led community organization that facilitates the return of Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone lands in the San Francisco Bay Area to Indigenous stewardship.

Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria

The Graton Rancheria community is a federation of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo groups recognized as a tribe by the US Congress.

Suscol Intertribal Council

The Suscol Intertribal Council is a community-based organization in Napa, California seeking to bring healing between the existing population and the people who historically inhabited Napa Valley and nearby counties.

Oakland Museum of CA Gallery of California History

This permanent gallery at the Oakland Museum of California includes an exhibit on “Taking Native Lands and Lives” which covers the genocide of Native peoples in the early era of California’s statehood and the impact on California today.

Ohlone Curriculum with Bay Miwok and Delta Yokuts Content

This Ohlone curriculum was developed by Dr. Beverly Ortiz with the East Bay Regional Parks District. The materials are designed to align with California Common Core standards for third grade history and social science instruction, but they can also be a helpful resource for anyone interested in the Indigenous history of the Bay Area.

The Ohlone Way

This essay by Malcolm Margolin is an excerpt from his book The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area, a highly-acclaimed historical account of Indigenous life in the Bay Area prior to European colonization.