Indigenous groups protest further development of West Berkeley Shellmound

Alexandria Bruschi/Staff

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On Wednesday, indigenous activist groups organized a spring equinox demonstration defending the sacred site of the West Berkeley Shellmound on 1900 4th St., where developers are looking to build residential units.

A developer wants to build a four-story residential complex on top of the site, which is currently being used as a parking lot. Idle No More SF Bay, Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty and Indian People Organizing for Change were collectively able to send more than 800 letters urging the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board to protect the shellmound.

The shellmound is a city-designated historic landmark, though the Ohlone people are not federally recognized. The West Berkeley Shellmound is considered to be the oldest burial site in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to Corrina Gould, co-founder of Indian People Organizing for Change.

“It’s an open land and (developers) don’t see the sacredness of that place,” Gould said. “They see this as an empty parking lot, they see money. Developers come in and drop their design and sell it off and leave, there’s not even a connection to the Berkeley community itself.”

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko, the developer and the Zoning Adjustments Board could not be reached for comment.

During the spring equinox demonstration, the organizers, who held a sign that said “protect indigenous sacred sites,” began with a prayer and song outside of Berkeley city offices. The participants then proceeded to walk to Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, where they danced together in a circle. After, there was a 1.8-mile walk to the West Berkeley Shellmound, during which participants sang and played drums.

Once the participants reached the intersection of 6th Street and University Avenue, they made a circle and danced in the middle for three minutes, blocking traffic coming from the Eastshore Freeway offramp and University Avenue.

The marchers then proceeded to the shellmound and spread sacred Ohlone medicine across the site as they prayed.

Afterward, a teach-in was led by activists Gould, Patricia St. Onge, Briana Ruiz, Isabella Zizi, Chris Oakes and historian Perry Matlock.

The organizers encouraged the participants to spread the word of the Shuumi Land Tax, a fundraising campaign that encourages non-Ohlone people living on Ohlone land to donate to support an Ohlone land trust.

“I hope to see Ohlone peoples vision of a shellmound with a spiral walking path full of California poppies and a useful space to become educated about the original people of this land,” Zizi said in an email. “I have hopes that the Berkeley zoning committee listens and wakes up and understands that we need to continue to protect and preserve indigenous artifacts and sacred sites in a respectful and responsible way.”

Contact Jessíca Jiménez at [email protected] and and follow her on Twitter at @jesscajimenez_dc.