The Indian Organization for Change held a gathering to save the West Berkeley Ohlone Shellmound on 4th Street on March 20, 2021 Photo: Pete Rosos Credit: Pete Rosos

The Berkeley City Council will now begin all meetings with an Indigenous land acknowledgment, recognizing that the Ohlone people are the original inhabitants of Berkeley and that the city’s residents continue to reap the benefits of occupying stolen land. 

The 175-word statement will be displayed at the start of every council meeting and read aloud during the first meeting of every month, according to an item approved on consent by the council Oct. 11.

Councilmember Sophie Hahn, who wrote the resolution, said land acknowledgments are meaningful in so far as they inspire the council and Berkeley residents to take further action to repair harm done to Ohlone people. 

“It is intended as a starting point for further restorative and reparative work our city and community must engage in,” Hahn said at the Oct. 11 meeting. “It is not an end in and of itself.” 

The item, co-sponsored by Mayor Jesse Arreguín and councilmembers Terry Taplin and Rigel Robinson, recommends several next steps, such as supporting local land transfers and land taxes and returning parcels of city land to Indigenous groups, modeled after a recent proposal by the city of Oakland to return five acres in Joaquin Miller Park to the SoGorea Te’ Land Trust.  

The Berkeley rent board began incorporating land acknowledgments into meetings in April. The council is recommending the city’s other boards and commissions adopt the practice, too.

The city of Berkeley has taken several steps to support Indigenous communities over the last few decades, including becoming, in 1990, the first city to rename the federal holiday Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day; putting “Ohlone Territory” on signs marking city limits; and joining the Confederated Villages of Lisjan in a lawsuit aimed at protecting a landmarked West Berkeley shellmound

Corrina Gould, chair of the Confederated Tribes of Lisjan and the co-founder of the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, echoed Hahn’s comments that the land acknowledgments lay the foundation for a “relationship between our tribes and the city governments.” 

“Land acknowledgment is just not about acknowledging that people have been here for thousands of years,” Gould said. “We’re still here and we are not going anywhere. [It’s about] doing all that we can to educate the public and to really try to figure out, How do we all go forward for the next seven generations?” 

In an eight-page background section citing four California history books, Hahn’s resolution recounts how Berkeley “came into being through the deliberate and sustained genocide of Indigenous people,” 50 tribal groups that have been living in the Bay Area for 10,000 years. The brief history documents how Spanish missionization and later state-bankrolled massacres decimated California Indian populations, which fell from 300,000 in the 1700s to 30,000 by 1873.

“We have survived over two centuries of genocide and colonization during the Spanish, Mexican and American eras,” reads the end of a short history of the Lisjan Ohlone published on the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust website and re-printed in the background section of the item. “Today, we continue to inhabit our ancestral homeland, fight for our sacred sites and revitalize our cultural practices.” 

Hahn said she was motivated to publish an in-depth summary of local Native history in order to make the land acknowledgments more meaningful. “I want people to invest in learning about the past and also to respect and celebrate with the Ohlone people who are still with us and support them.”

Read more about the history of Native Californians in the item written by Hahn:

Read the full land acknowledgment that will be displayed at the start of Berkeley City Council meetings and read aloud monthly:

The City of Berkeley recognizes that the community we live in was built on the territory of xučyun (Huchiun (Hooch-yoon)), the ancestral and unceded land of the Chochenyo (Cho-chen-yo)-speaking Ohlone (Oh-low-nee) people, the ancestors and descendants of the sovereign Verona Band of Alameda County. This land was and continues to be of great importance to all of the Ohlone Tribes and descendants of the Verona Band. As we begin our meeting tonight, we acknowledge and honor the original inhabitants of Berkeley, the documented 5,000-year history of a vibrant community at the West Berkeley Shellmound, and the Ohlone people who continue to reside in the East Bay. We recognize that Berkeley’s residents have and continue to benefit from the use and occupation of this unceded stolen land since the City of Berkeley’s incorporation in 1878. As stewards of the laws regulating the City of Berkeley, it is not only vital that we recognize the history of this land, but also recognize that the Ohlone people are present members of Berkeley and other East Bay communities today.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the park in Oakland’s proposal to return land rights to the SoGorea Te’ Land Trust. The five acres are located in Joaquin Miller Park, not Reinhardt Regional Park.

Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...