Twenty-seven years ago, Berkeley was the first city in the United States to formally celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of the flawed holiday of Columbus Day. The city started a significant trend — almost 60 other cities across the country now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. And while this holiday is an important acknowledgement of the histories of genocide and erasure that indigenous peoples have endured, Berkeley can’t stop here — it must do more to stand in solidarity with its indigenous population in concrete ways.
Before the UC Berkeley campus or the city of Berkeley existed, there was Ohlone land, inhabited by the Ohlone people — a fact that the city must more actively recognize. Native groups identify 1900 Fourth St. in West Berkeley as the location of the only remaining portion of a sacred Ohlone shellmound that has not been excavated for development. Requests to develop the land were recently rejected by the city — another positive example of the city supporting its indigenous residents.
But this isn’t enough. 1900 Fourth St. is still a parking lot, even though the Ohlone people have suggested that the city make it a commemorative park to honor the tribe’s culture and history. Berkeley should continue to demonstrate its valuing of indigenous histories and adopt this suggestion.
And the city isn’t the only entity that needs to make significant changes. The Daily Californian’s editorial board has repeatedly called on UC Berkeley to publicly acknowledge its problematic relationship with indigenous tribes, but little has changed. The campus continues to hold the bones of hundreds of Native American people. According to Phenocia Bauerle, director of the campus Native American Student Development office, UC Berkeley has only repatriated a mere 14 percent of its collections.
Recently, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 2836, which identifies UC Berkeley’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology as one of the largest holders of Native American human remains and cultural items in the country. The bill intends to facilitate the repatriation of these items to their respective tribes. On this issue, the state took a step in the right direction. But with the veto of AB 2772, the state took a major step backward.
AB 2772 proposed a three-year pilot program that would mandate a one-semester or yearlong ethnic studies course as a graduation requirement for high school students. AB 2772 would have ensured that schools across California were educating students on important issues from a young age, addressing the racist and colonialist history of the United States and holidays such as Columbus Day.
In many ways, Berkeley is a leader in recognizing and fighting for indigenous histories and spaces. But Berkeley’s indigenous population deserves tangible changes. The city needs to prioritize uplifting the narratives of a community that has been unfairly neglected for far too long.