Ohlone women fighting to get back their land, cultural heritage in Bay Area

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- As we honor Indigenous People's Day we are highlighting the work a group of Ohlone women is doing to fight for their cultural heritage and get their land back.

"We are standing on the first quarter acre of land returned to us in 250 years," said Corrina Gould, Director and Co-Founder of Sogorea Te' Land Trust, Chair of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan. "These are our cattails and these usually only grow on marshes which is why we know that this is probably where our ancestors have always been", said Gould.

"Where we stand today is part of a territory called Huichin," said Gould. Gould explains that Huichin includes Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Albany, Emeryville and Piedmont. "Our relatives lost all of the land and our connection to the land even though we've never left", said Gould.

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"Our ancestors went through three waves of colonization and genocide, beginning with the Spanish Mission period, then the Mexican Rancho period and currently the United States Government."

The state of California was built with laws that made it illegal to be Indian explains Gould. "And so all California Native people had a bounty on our heads, five dollars a head and twenty-five cents an ear, so we talk about the Gold Rush coming here and it changed everything, all these men coming looking for gold, couldn't find gold but they could find Native villages and could kill the Native people and they could sell the young kids in the town", said Gould.

"The disconnect and the disjointment from our lands and from our family clans were even further destroyed," said Gould.

Gould explained that as we begin to talk about these histories, people begin to realize in the Bay Area that Ohlone people are still here. Lisjan People, it's a confederation, it's made up of the 5 tribes that were brought as slaves into Mission San Jose. Lisjan is inclusive of Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Solano, and part of Napa counties.

East Bay Regional Parks owns over 125,000 acres of Ohlone territory. "We don't have permission to gather, there are lots of things that continue the disconnect and the genocide and invisibility of our people", said Gould. "Having this place where we can have the ceremony and we can take care of plants and gather and to learn about that again and that reconnection of learning language and song and dance is really important", said Gould. "

This was a garbage dump here before", said Gould. "When we pray, we offer tobacco to the ancestors. Yarrow, this actually stops wounds from bleeding. These are rice bails and so it's a technique of growing food."

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Gould explains her dream of the Bay Area beginning to have these working relationships, living in reciprocity with the tribe and the land and the waters. "Imagine that we could drink out of every freshwater creek in the Bay Area only 150 years ago", said Gould. "To bring the salmon back and the trout and to re-engage in taking care of the land." Human beings always had a reciprocal relationship with the land, explained Gould. "We didn't just exist here, but for thousands of years we knew how to work with the lands and the waters so it took care of us and we took care of it", said Gould.

"When we're looking at climate crisis right now, we're looking at how as human beings do we take care of this and reverse some of the harms that we have done as human beings", said Gould. "Imagine just a few hundred years ago there was no concept of hunger or homelessness on this land", said Gould.

"I have lived here my entire life and never have I seen this many people without a roof over their head. It's our responsibility to try and relieve some of that. It's our responsibility because people live on our lands" explained Gould. "So we need folks that want to do this work with us to do this work because it's not just for us, it's for the next seven generations of all beings," said Gould.

Shuumi means gift in Chochenyo. "Land in the Bay Area is expensive, and Ohlone people are having to buy back their own land", said Gould. Shuumi offers folks that are non-Indigenous to pay an honorary tax. "A way to live in reciprocity on the land you work, live or play on" explained Gould.

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People can go to their website and fill out some very simple information. "And then it will give you an estimated tax, many times its Sixty-eight dollars", said Gould.

"We have residents who are contributing to that project through the Shuumi Land Tax, I've contributed myself", said Jesse Arreguin, Mayor of Berkeley.

Recently the Cities of Albany and Alameda became the first cities in the country to contribute Shuumi.

"The city of Alameda worked with us to change Andrew Jackson Park to Chochenyo Park", explained Gould. "Berkeley was the first city in all the cities in the Bay Area to change their signage to say 'Welcome to Berkeley Ohlone Territory,'" said Gould.

Gould hopes that all the cities in the Bay Area will work with them to change their signage as well.

"We want to recognize not just our past but recognize that the Ohlone are still here", said Arrequin. "For me, this is like the ancestors saying yes, you're home", said Gould looking at the cattails. "

When I walk onto this land I know that there's a connection. To know that you're home and that this can't be taken away from you. So much has been taken away and now we're trying to give this back", said Gould.

"Walking onto this land reminds me that my ancestors are walking with me. Sogorea Te' Land Trust recently purchased a home for Urban-Indigenous people to live in, they raised $750,000 in just one week.
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