Since Sunday afternoon, members and supporters of the Indigenous Land Action Committee have occupied university-owned land known as the Gill Tract in protest of UC Berkeley’s plans to develop it.
According to Hank Herrera, a convener for the ILAC, the group plans to continue camping and holding ceremony on the land — which it says is sacred and belongs to the Ohlone tribe — until campus administration responds to a letter the group sent Sunday, which requests that campus officials meet and negotiate with them.
UCPD began issuing admonitions — official warnings that participants are subject to arrest — Monday night, though officers have yet to arrest or forcibly remove any of the participants.
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said that the campus has received the ILAC’s message and is considering options for future action and discussion.
“We’ve read their letter carefully, we have researched their legal claims extensively and have found nothing to suggest a failure to comply with all of the relevant laws,” Mogulof said. “At this point, we’re most interested that trespassing on university property come to an end and we are not interested in discussion under duress.”
According to Christine Shaff, spokesperson for UC Berkeley’s real estate division, the construction of a senior center and several retail stores will bring many benefits to the campus — such as supporting more affordable housing in the UC Village — through the development’s income.
Some protesters allege, however, that the campus’s decision to develop the land is an example of corporate greed.
“As a public institution, the university should be serving its community, and it shouldn’t be supporting profit,” said Luna Fassett, a sophomore conservation and research studies major participating in the protest.
According to Government Code 65352.3 under Senate Bill 18, cities must consult with Native American tribes on the contact list maintained by the Native American Heritage Commission “prior to the adoption or any amendment of a city or county’s general plan.”
In its letter, the ILAC said it was concerned that the city’s failure to reach out to the Ohlone tribe violates this law. According to Mogulof, however, this claim is invalid because the development required no general plan amendment, and therefore, the code did not mandate consultation.
The ILAC hopes to come to an agreement for joint stewardship over the land with the campus, which would mean the creation of a council with equal representation from the native community, the campus and the city of Albany to govern over the land, according to Herrera.
Mogulof said neither the ILAC nor members of the Ohlone tribe made attempts to participate in the planning process for the development, which began in 2007 and included two opportunities for community input. He said there has never been an attempt by members of the Ohlone tribe to hold ceremony in the area in the history of the university.
“The planning process for this has been going on for almost 10 years,” Mogulof said. “If this were a sacred spot and of cultural significance, why is it only now that we’re hearing about it?”
Herrera, who identifies as half-Ohlone, expressed that the land is important in the context of a long history of Native American oppression. He said that in an ideal world, the ILAC would be able to persuade UC Berkeley to shift focus away from development and toward creating an agro-ecological center for native foodways.
“We’re not going to be hidden,” he said. “We do exist. We’re here.”
Contact Jessica Lynn at jlynn.org.