On support for Native Americans, UC Berkeley must turn its words into actions

CAMPUS ISSUES: Acknowledging the land of Ohlone people is a step in the right direction, but more action needs to happen

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Kelly Baird/Staff

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In 1868, UC Berkeley was founded on Ohlone land. Last week, 150 years later, the ASUC passed a resolution recognizing the campus’s role in this tragic history. Starting in the fall, the ASUC executive vice president must make the following statement at the first meeting of each semester: “I want to take this moment to acknowledge we as the Associated Students of the University of California and the University of California, Berkeley are sitting on stolen Ohlone land.”

But while it’s impressive that the ASUC, the campus’s independent student association, is taking initiative to acknowledge UC Berkeley’s dark past and make reparations, it’s unfathomable that the campus administration itself has made few actionable changes.

When visitors to UC Berkeley take a tour of the school, guided by an official campus ambassador, they see only the landmarks the school wants them to see — the remnants of the Free Speech Movement, the Nobel Prize-winning professors and the Campanile. Not once in the tour guide manual does it mention Ohlone people. Meanwhile, the manual recommends that campus ambassadors take visitors to Kroeber Hall — a campus building named after a UC Berkeley anthropologist who conducted intrusive and immoral research on a Native American man from the Yahi tribe.

Other colleges in California have taken much greater strides to increase the visibility of the Native American histories that are interwoven into their campuses. UC Santa Cruz has worked to establish its own Amah Mutsun Relearning Garden that works to return the land to the Ohlone people. It’s unacceptable for UC Berkeley to be so behind its peers in its efforts to support the communities they’ve taken so much from.

The lack of Native American representation at UC Berkeley extends beyond the campus infrastructure — it’s also apparent in its admissions data. In fall 2017, only 0.4 percent of the enrolled freshman class self-identified as being of Native American or Alaska Native descent, which is far fewer than the 1.7 percent of Californians who identify as such. When it comes to making efforts to support Native American peoples, shouldn’t representation in the student body be the first step a university takes?

It’s important to acknowledge that UC Berkeley has made strides in recent months to make the Native American population more visible on campus. Discussions are ongoing regarding the launch of a comprehensive initiative that could include changes to faculty recruitment and museum practices, public acknowledgement statements by UC Berkeley and even a space dedicated to Native people, according to campus spokesperson Michael Dirda.

But UC Berkeley’s track record shows that, when it comes to the Native American community, the campus struggles to make tangible progress. It’s not enough just to say that we are on Ohlone land and then move on; the school needs to put its full weight behind the promises it makes.

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  • California Defender

    Perhaps the author of this article and the ASUC should have done more research. The Ohlone were not the first on this land. They violently displaced the
    Esselen and I suspect the Esselen did the same to some poor tribe before them.

    But go ahead and keep on with your pointless virtue signalling, Berkeley. It’s just a flag of idiocy you raise up for the world to see.

  • Man with Axe

    Besides virtue signalling regarding the 400 or so Ohlone people still around, your prescription seems to be to use some sort of illegal (in California) affirmative action to raise the number of Indians who are admitted to Berkeley. Why not just let the Indian people do well enough in high school to get in on their own merit, if, that is in fact what they want to do. Raising the numbers as you suggest (from roughly 120 to 510) will hardly make a difference in the average Berkeley student’s educational experience. At 1.7% most classes small enough to have class discussion will have zero Indian students.

    • California Defender

      Perhaps Berkeley should stop admitting “undocumented” students from foreign countries and give those seats to Native Americans.