Category Archives: Native American lands

Ohlone People Rejoice After City of Berkeley Votes to Return Sacred Land to Tribe

[Comment by BenIndy contributor Roger Straw – This is GREAT news for all the People!! In 2006, I walked many miles with Sogorea Te’ co-founder Corrina Gould. I was surprised and sad that she was not in the photo, but then heartened to see her quoted at the very moving end of the KQED/AP article:
Corrina Gould, co-founder of the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust and tribal chair of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan Ohlone, attended Tuesday’s City Council meeting via video conference and wiped away tears after the council voted to return the land. The mound that once stood there was ‘a place where we first said goodbye to someone,’ she said. ‘To have this place saved forever, I am beyond words.’

Others from the former Vallejo Inter-Tribal Council, including my old friend, Wounded Knee Ocampo and his extended family, and VIC Chairperson Midge Wagner had a lot to do with the struggle to save sacred indigenous sites over the years. – RS]

Berkeley buys Ohlone shellmound, returns it to Indigenous people

Melissa Nelson, chair of the board of directors of the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, middle, gestures while speaking at a news conference in Berkeley, Wednesday, March 13, 2024. Berkeley’s City Council voted unanimously Tuesday, March 12, 2024, to adopt an ordinance giving the title of the land to the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, a women-led, San Francisco Bay Area collective that works to return land to Indigenous people and that raised the funds needed to reach the agreement. (Jeff Chiu/AP Photo)

KQED News, Associated Press, by Janie Har, Mar 13, 2024

Ohlone people and others rejoiced Wednesday over the return of sacred native land dating back thousands of years, saying the move righted a historic wrong and restored the people who were first on the land now called Berkeley to their rightful place in history.

The 2.2-acre parking lot is the only undeveloped portion of the shell mound in West Berkeley, where ancestors of today’s Ohlone people established the first human settlement on the shores of the San Francisco Bay 5,700 years ago.

Berkeley’s City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt an ordinance giving the title of the land to the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, a San Francisco Bay Area collective led by women that works to return land to Indigenous people. The collective raised most of the money needed to reach an agreement with developers who own the land.

“The site will be home to education, prayer and preservation, and will outlast every one of us today to continue telling the story of the Ohlone people,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín at a celebratory press conference on Fourth Street in Berkeley Wednesday. He said their history is “marked not by adversity, but more importantly, by their unwavering resilience as a community.”

Arreguín added that he thought it was “pretty absurd” that they had to buy the site to give it back to indigenous people “when this was theirs all along, and we stole it from them.”

“[I]t’s been a long effort … long, long legal battles, many meetings. People prayed, people protested. But all along, it’s been an incredible community effort. And I’m very grateful that we were able to do this today,” Arreguín said.

Cheyenne Zepeda from the Confederated Villages of Ocean Nation said that they’ve been praying and fighting for this recognition for over 25 years.

“We see a huge parking lot that’s been paved over, we’re looking towards the train tracks, there’s also the freeway that’s here off of university, and we don’t see the beautiful ground that it was before, but we will … we will again,” Zepeda said.

‘[W]e don’t see the beautiful ground that it was before, but we will … we will again.’Cheyenne Zepeda, Confederated Villages of Ocean Nation
The crowd cheered as speakers talked of a movement to restore other lands to Indigenous people. The site — a three-block area Berkeley designated as a landmark in 2000 — will be home to native medicines and foods, an oasis for pollinators and wildlife, and a place for youth to learn about their heritage, including ancient dances and ceremonies, said Melissa Nelson, chair of the board of the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust.

“Thousands of years ago, this site was a thriving … urban center for Native Americans, for California Indians with their beautiful shell mounds dotted all around the bay,” Nelson said. “We want to be a place for global Indigenous leadership to come and gather in solidarity. We want to educate, we want to restore, and we want to heal.”

Before Spanish colonizers arrived in the region, the area held a village and a massive shell mound with a height of 20 feet and the length and width of a football field that was a ceremonial and burial site. Built over years with mussel, clam and oyster shells, human remains, and artifacts, the mound also served as a lookout.

The Spanish removed the Ohlone from their villages and forced them into labor at local missions. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Anglo settlers took over the land and razed the shell mound to line roadbeds in Berkeley with shells.

The agreement with Berkeley-based Ruegg & Ellsworth LLC, which owns the parking lot, comes after a six-year legal fight that started in 2018 when the developer sued the city after officials denied its application to build a 260-unit apartment building with 50% affordable housing and 27,500 feet of retail and parking space.

The settlement was reached after Ruegg & Ellsworth agreed to accept $27 million to settle all outstanding claims and to turn the property over to Berkeley. The Sogorea Te’ Land Trust contributed $25.5 million and Berkeley paid $1.5 million, officials said.

The trust plans to build a commemorative park with a new shell mound and a cultural center to house some of the pottery, jewelry, baskets and other artifacts found over the years and that are in the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley.

Corrina Gould, co-founder of the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust and tribal chair of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan Ohlone, attended Tuesday’s City Council meeting via video conference and wiped away tears after the council voted to return the land.

The mound that once stood there was “a place where we first said goodbye to someone,” she said. “To have this place saved forever, I am beyond words.”

KQED’s Sara Hossaini contributed to this story.

Sogorea Te’ Land Trust Co-Founder Corrina Gould

On the cusp of Indigenous Peoples Day (October 11th)

Hey Colonizers

Art by Ruben Guadalupe Marquez

Women’s Foundation California, by Torre Freeman, October 6, 2021

If that greeting stings a little bit, this message is for you.

We’re on the cusp of Indigenous Peoples Day (October 11th) and Thanksgiving is right around the corner too. So let’s chat about how we can decolonize our feminism (and everything else too).

Maybe you’re upset that I called you a colonizer, maybe you feel defensive, maybe you’re rolling your eyes because you already know. Whatever your response, if I’ve engendered some big feelings, I’m hopeful that those feelings will inspire you to keep reading. How about we collectively agree to stop it with gentleness that reinforces white fragility.

I want to acknowledge that I’m a white ciswoman and it is not my place to speak for Indigenous People; there’s an endless list of folks who’s stories and perspectives should be heard before mine. But the burden shouldn’t fall solely on the Indigenous community to lead us along this journey of decolonization.

As an intersectional feminist and a person that works for a feminist organization, these are the exact conversations I want to have with our community- How do we show up for Indigenous people? How do we educate ourselves about the reality of American history? How do we lift up Indigenous stories? How do we defetishize our relationship to Indigenous culture? How do we Thanksgiving or do we Thanksgiving at all? How do we rematriate the land? How do we authentically continue these decolonization efforts throughout the year and not just when it’s trending on social media?

For us to heal from the horrors of our colonial past (and present), most of us, as descendants of colonizers, have to acknowledge the ugliest corners of our history and dismantle the mythologies around the pilgrim and “Indian” story. As we approach Indigenous People’s Day we’re committing to radical honesty and fostering a deep understanding of colonialism and how we are (still) perpetuating colonizer violence. From this place of understanding, let us take action to celebrate Indigenous stories, educate our children and our loved ones, give reparations, and support Indigenous artists, changemakers, farmers, and businesses in a deliberate effort to return what we have stolen.

Here’s a few things you can do right now to further this effort:

  1. Native Land Digital – Benicia, CA. (Click image to enlarge. Go here for interactive display.)

    Acknowledge whose land you’re on. Which traditional territories are you residing on? Learn about and honor their enduring relationship to the land. WFC is based on stolen Lisjan Ohlone land. This land (like all land) carries Indigenous stories, knowledge and belongs to the true stewards of our earth.“Land acknowledgements can be a powerful entry point for deeper engagement in the work of rematriation but are also often token or rhetorical acts of performative allyship. Here are a few resources to learn more about how to make land acknowledgements in a way that support real Indigenous sovereignty.” 

  2. Attend a local or virtual event in celebration of Indigenous People’s Day (consult Google or your local tribal headquarters for events near you).
  3. Donate to Indigenous-led organizations that are working to  uphold Indigenous rights and land practices. Our grant partner Sogorea Te’ Land Trust is an urban Indigenous women-led land trust in the California Bay Area working to return Indigenous land to Indigenous hands. Check out their Shuumi Land Tax calculator. 
  4. Make a ruckus change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Columbus Day should be abolished and Indigenous Peoples Day should have Federal Holiday status.
  5. Learn more about the #LandBack movement & get involved.
  6. Consider thoughtful ways to honor and celebrate Indigenous people this Thanksgiving. Start the conversation with family about how and what you’re celebrating, learn together about the real history of Thanksgiving.
  7. Deepen your knowledge around the epidemic of gender-based violence experienced by Indigenous women and two spirit people through the critical and radical work of organizations like the Sovereign Bodies Institute.
  8. Decolonize your social media feed – follow Indigenous creators – share their stories. Here’s a few accounts we recommend:

Depending on what kind of overachiever you are – you may accomplish all the things on the above list, or just one, or two things. Whatever way you show up to this conversation and these learnings, please remember, this is not some kind of woke Olympics – justice is not an event where we’re competing for a gold medal. But we can strive to grow in our knowledge, support, and celebrations of Indigenous/Native communities, their contributions, their stewardship, and their stories.

Hopefully you leave this blog, take action, and share in this feeling: there is momentum building as we continue this process of learning, unlearning, and relearning. I can’t help but feel a little sanguine (& that’s a big deal for this full-time cynic here), that we are moving toward a new beginning, that the Indigenous People of this world could someday be reunited with what belongs to them. Until that day comes- keep learning, keep listening, keep changing and keep Maya Angelou’s refrain on repeat: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Protesters shut down rail lines in Canada – why that’s important here in Benicia

By Roger Straw, February 18, 2020

My U.S. readers might wonder why I cover oil train news from Canada.  Answer: Our Canada neighbors are important – we are of course, a global people.  AND… what happens in production and transport of Canadian tar-sands oil is newsworthy “uprail” news for our west coast states.  Canadian and US ports are lined up for export, and our refineries would love to receive the icky substance by rail.

Vintage yard sign – successful 2016 defeat of Valero’s oil train proposal

My Benicia readers might wonder why I continue to cover oil train news at all – didn’t we successfully defeat Valero’s dirty and dangerous proposal in 2016? Answer: well, Valero is poised to buy our 2020 mayor and council elections.  Who’s to say they won’t try for crude by rail again?  Back in 2014-2016, Valero expected to win approval, and invested heavily in the necessary infrastructure for offloading oil trains.  Last I knew, they stored the heavy equipment offsite here in Benicia’s Industrial Park.  Has it been sold or moved?


Rail Lines Shut Down, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Still on Gidimt’en Land as Miller Meets Tyendinaga Blockaders

The Energy Mix, February 18, 2020, Primary Author Mitchell Beer
Tyendinaga blockade
Tyendinaga blockade | Source: Twitter

Rail lines across most of Canada remained shut down this week, RCMP were still a threatening presence on Gidimt’en land in British Columbia, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller met with Tyendinaga Mohawk protesters, and a flurry of news coverage traced the widening impacts of a blockade triggered by a pipeline company pushing an unwanted natural gas pipeline through unceded Indigenous territory.

Over the weekend, the Tyendinaga blockade of the CN Rail track near Belleville, Ontario continued after the community concluded a day-long meeting with Miller. Blockades or demonstrations were under way near Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec, at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, and on the Prince Edward Island side of the Confederation Bridge, and shut down the Thousand Islands Bridge between Ontario and New York State for 2½ hours. Days earlier, a court injunction barred Wet’suwet’en supporters from continuing their blockade of the B.C. legislature in Victoria.

And in Toronto, a massive march snaked through downtown to the provincial legislature Monday, with Toronto police tweeting that drivers should consider alternate routes after protesters stopped for a time at the busy corner of Bay and College. “When justice fails, block the rails,” demonstrators chanted. “How do you spell racist? R-C-M-P,” they added.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government was committed to “resolving the situation  quickly and peacefully,” while maintaining that the rail disruptions must be settled through dialogue, not police intervention.

“We are not the kind of country where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters,” he told media Friday, while attending a global security conference in Munich. “We are a country that recognizes the right to protest, but we are a country of the rule of law. And we will ensure that everything is done to resolve this through dialogue and constructive outcomes.”

Before his meeting at Tyendinaga began Saturday, Miller said he wasn’t sure he could convince anyone to shut down the blockade, but he was there to open a dialogue.

“This is a situation that is very tense, very volatile, there are some people that have been standing out there for days, so today is a chance to talk and have a real discussion,” he said. “All of Canada is hurting, the economy is slowing down,” and “everyone knows the reports about supply shortages, but we can’t move forward without dialogue, and that’s we’re going to do today.”

Afterwards, based on a recording provided by a meeting participant, CBC reported that Miller had asked the community to suspend the blockade. But that request was undercut by a call from Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Woos (Frank Alec), who told the room the RCMP was still on his community’s territory. “I would suggest to you loud and clear that we want the RCMP out of Gidimt’en territory,” he said.

While the RCMP operation to clear several Indigenous checkpoints was over, the chief said the police were still on the scene and “continued to pose a threat”, CBC said.

“We want them out of there. We don’t want them there. They have a detachment right in the middle of nowhere, in their eyes. But in our eyes, it’s our territory,” he said. “We do our traditions out there. We do our trapping and hunting. They are out there with guns, threatening us.”

“Get the red coats out first, get the blue coats out…then we can maybe have some common discussions,” responded Tyendinaga community member Mario Baptiste.

“Obviously dealing with the context of the issue…it absolutely needs to be widened,” Miller replied.

“Tonight, we made some modest progress by opening up a dialogue with the people standing out there in the cold and doing so for eight or nine days,” Miller told media afterwards. “We talked openly, frankly, painfully at times, and sometimes with humour. There’s a lot more work to be done.”

Miller added that he would share the results of the discussion with Trudeau and the rest of the federal cabinet. “The underlying issues did not arise yesterday,” he said. “They’ve been present in this community for hundreds of years.”

Political scientists Gina Starblanket of the University of Calgary and Joyce Green of the University of Regina underscored that history last Thursday, in a Globe and Mail op ed that declared the death of the reconciliation process between Canada and Indigenous peoples.

“February has seen an explosion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous support for the current political struggle by the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters,” they wrote. “Again, we are seeing a ham-handed response of both orders of government, delivered in justificatory talking points to the media and enforced by the RCMP. Once again, we have the police dragging Indigenous peoples off of their lands, in Canada, in the service of the settler state, which is as usual attending to virtually every relevant political interest—except Indigenous ones.”

All of that “despite the rhetoric from federal and some provincial politicians about the need to transform their relationship with Indigenous people—even though that little matter of land theft continues,” they add. “And Canada—in all its structural manifestations—continues its perpetual drive to eliminate Indigenous rights to land and self-determination, treating them as impediments to the national interest.”

News coverage over the last week combined front-line reports on the blockade with stories on the businesses and supply chains disrupted by the national rail shutdown. On Thursday, CBC reported that protests in Belleville and New Hazelton, B.C. had “prompted CN Rail to temporarily shut down parts of its network” as of Tuesday, with the lack of any train movement “crippling the ability to move goods and facilitate trade.” That same day, CN said it was “initiating a progressive and orderly shutdown of its Eastern Canadian network”, a decision that could lead to 6,000 temporary layoffs, according to Teamsters Canada.

“With over 400 trains cancelled during the last week and new protests that emerged at strategic locations on our mainline, we have decided that a progressive shutdown of our Eastern Canadian operations is the responsible approach to take for the safety of our employees and the protesters,” said CN President and CEO J.J. Ruest. “This situation is regrettable…these protests are unrelated to CN’s activities and beyond our control.”

On Wednesday, VIA Rail said it had cancelled 256 passenger trains along its Montreal-Toronto and Toronto-Ottawa routes, affecting 42,100 passengers. A day later, it shut down most operations. “Via Rail has no other option but to cancel all of its services on the network, with the exception of Sudbury-White River (CP Rail) and Churchill-The Pas (Hudson Bay Railway), until further notice,” the company said in a media statement.

The lack of rail access quickly cascaded across the economy, with business leaders raising alarms about the economic impact.

“Every day that it goes on, the damage compounds,” said Perrin Beatty, CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. “It is damaging our international reputation as a reliable supplier. It is affecting our supply chains around the world.”

Beatty told CBC the blockades had “severely limited the movement of perishable foods and other consumer items, grain, construction materials, and propane for Quebec and Atlantic Canada,” the national broadcaster said. “The stoppage has also affected the movement of natural resources like timber, aluminum, coal, and oil, while factories and mines may soon face difficult decisions about their ability to continue operations.”

“Every day we hear more and more from companies that either can’t get their parts or ingredients or components to market, or can’t get their products out. It’s beginning to pile up,” added Dennis Darby, president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, whose members typically load about 4,500 rail cars a day. “In today’s modern industrial economy, there aren’t as many big warehouses of stuff as people tend to think. It’s kind of in, out, and sell.”

Derek Nighbor, president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada, said the disruptions had cost his members “millions and millions of dollars” in lost sales, with mills unable to get raw materials or schedule freight cars to ship finished products. Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, traced a similar impact.

“If the blockade were to lift today, it would have cost the grain industry over $10 million just over the last few days,” he said. “We have farmers who are needing to deliver product. They’re needing to sell it into the handling system so that they can get paid, so that they can pay bills and keep cash flow going on their farms.”

Karl Littler, senior vice president, public affairs at the Retail Council of Canada, listed personal hygiene products, infant formula, cleaning and sanitary products, and fresh food as items that will be in short supply if the blockades continue. “There is an inability to move goods cross country through the various choke points,” he told CBC. “It’s of major concern to retail merchants. It both interrupts the flow of retail-ready goods and hampers the manufacturing process for Canadian manufacturing.”

“Obviously, there are some issues if nothing is being transported by rail,” said Nathalie St-Pierre, president and CEO of the Canadian Propane Association. “They are talking about continuing the dialogue. But at the same time, and from probably everyone’s perspective, you have to lift the blockades. You can have the dialogue, but at this time, I think the point was made.”

But for campaigners supporting the Wet’suwet’en, there is historic irony but no coincidence in a nation-wide protest that targets Canada’s railways.

“It’s very historically significant because the project of colonization, as well as the extinction of the buffalo, was facilitated by the laying down of the Trans Canada railway,” said Nikki Sanchez, a member of the Pipil Maya Nation who was involved with a six-day encampment at the B.C. legislature.

Climate Justice Edmonton organizer Emma Jackson tweeted that this might be the only time she celebrates cancelled trains, noting that the railway was first built to “enable settlers to go and build their lives on Indigenous lands”, making it a fair target for pushback against a pipeline being built without the consent of hereditary chiefs.

“It’s also probably the best tool that a lot of folks have at our disposal, in order to really put pressure on the decision-makers,” Jackson told the Toronto Star, adding that it’s “mind-boggling” that politicians are focusing on the inconvenience resulting from the blockades. “If you’re going to talk about inconvenience, it is very inconvenient that you’re going to be removed from your own land, forcefully at the barrel of a gun.”

Sanchez added that Indigenous communities don’t take the blockades lightly, and they wouldn’t be possible without the support of non-Indigenous Canadian allies. “We have no interest in impacting individuals’ livelihoods,” she said. “We want a Canada that is upheld to justice.”

The Star documents the support for the Wet’suwet’en from many of the passengers affected by the rail shutdown in Ontario.