Berkeley recognizes occupation of Ohlone territory with new city signs

Leon Chen/Staff

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The city of Berkeley installed new signs Feb. 7 throughout the city deeming Berkeley as “Ohlone Territory” in homage to the city’s Ohlone roots.

The signs were proposed by Berkeley City Councilmember Cheryl Davila to replace missing or damaged signs in the city, according to Mayor Jesse Arreguín. He added that the signs aim to preserve cultural heritage by reminding community members that Berkeley was once occupied by the Ohlone people.

“We want to acknowledge history,” Arreguín said. “This is land the Ohlone people have occupied for many generations.”

At a press conference Tuesday, Davila said her primary reason for proposing these new signs was to acknowledge the fact that Berkeley and its residents are occupying Ohlone land. She first thought of the idea when she noticed that Oakland put up its new “Love Life” signs as an homage to a 16-year-old Oakland resident who was fatally shot in 1997.

Councilmember Sophie Hahn said at the press conference that although she grew up in the city and studied American history at UC Berkeley, even she did not know that there were still Ohlone people in Berkeley.

“I feel such a great sense of responsibility to acknowledge … to repair and to address the great wrongs,” Hahn said. “We cannot go back in time, but we can go forward more respectfully.”

Eloy Martinez, a participant in the Occupation of Alcatraz and the Shellmound walks, said the implementation of the new signs, though “long overdue,” is an important step toward the recognition of Native Americans.

Lisjan/Ohlone leader Ruth Orta has worked with the East Bay Regional Park District to provide education about her people and encourages the preservation of Ohlone cultural heritage through learning and teaching traditional Ohlone crafts.

“We’re doing it the right way. The history has to come out,” Orta said. “I’m so proud of this sign.”

Lisjan/Ohlone leader Corrina Gould has been working for years to preserve the West Berkeley Shellmound. Gould added that her children and grandchildren were raised here — the land of her ancestors.

Berkeley is the first city in the Bay Area to acknowledge that the Ohlone people are still present, according to Gould. She added that she is working with her allies to further preserve Ohlone culture by protecting the West Berkeley Shellmound and other sites.

Loa Niumeitolu, a Tongan poet and Berkeley resident, said she has been collaborating with Gould, adding that working with the Ohlone movement has helped her feel at home.

“We are still on occupied land,” Gould said. “Let us continue the work of preservation … for everyone who lives in this territory.”

Contact Leon Chen at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @leonwchen.