West Berkeley Shellmound


This image and those below are from SavetheShellmound.org's page explaining their vision. That is also the page where you can donate to the organization's legal defense fund.

I've taken a strong position to stand with Ohlone elders on the fate of the Spenger's parking lot, which was poured over the West Berkeley Shellmound. The initial archeological findings supported tribal elders' claims about the site, and was only later reversed after a second survey, which didn't dig down deep enough to the area where artifacts were found. Human burials were found across the street. Advocates for increased density have claimed that the site is vital for a multistory apartment complex, and while I understand the necessity for more affordable housing, it isn't right for us to continue the shameful tradition of ignoring the rights, needs, and desires of the indigenous peoples of any area. I have come up with several innovative proposals to increase housing through bringing more existing units to market: a payroll tax on large corporations in Silicon Valley on employees who commute long distances to Berkeley, Oakland, and SF (a regional effort that we will have to achieve through state law, for which I am organizing); and ADUs, among other things, to deal with the housing crisis—in areas that are NOT the West Berkeley Shellmound.

For an alternative to the proposed complex, I defer to Ohlone elders, who have written the following on their website (https://shellmound.org/learn-more/ohlone-vision/), where the color images of their vision were also taken from:

In March of 2017, Ohlone matriarchs Ruth Orta and Corrina Gould publicly presented an alternative vision for restoring the land that they developed with the help of Berkeley landscape architect Chris Walker. The conceptual plan includes the restoration of native vegetation, a dance arbor for Ohlone ceremonial use, and the possible daylighting of Strawberry Creek. A 40-foot high mound covered in California poppies is envisioned, with a path spiraling up to the top and a memorial and educational center contained inside the mound. “When people go up to the top they could actually see across the bay, like my ancestors would have been able to see from atop the shellmound,” Gould describes.


Such a distinctive memorial in Berkeley would provide a visibility for the Ohlone community and their history that is otherwise starkly absent. “When you come here to the Bay Area that’s full of thousands of people who are from different parts of the world, nobody knows who the original people are,” Corrina Gould laments. “Nobody contemplates who we are still. The only thing you see is Ohlone Park, Ohlone College or Ohlone Way, but none of those places have anything to do with us.”

Ruth Orta and Corrina Gould present their vision for 1900 Fourth St to the Berkeley Landmarks Commission, 2/2/17

“It’s important to have this history known. It’s been an erased history—part of the continuous erasure of our people. What if we were to actually have a place where Ohlone people could talk about not only the past, and how we survived a genocide, but the resilience of still being here today? To talk about what it could look like to be in reciprocity with one another living on this land. Wouldn’t that be a great gift, not only to ourselves, but to future generations of people in the Bay Area?”

In any case, it is abundantly clear that this land, with the 5,000 years of memories it contains, is bigger than a place for shops, apartments and underground parking. For Corrina Gould and other Ohlone community members, it’s not only a place for their people to pray and remember, it’s a place that invites all people to remember “our compassion, conscience and civility, to learn to be human again, together.”

For further background information, please also check out these sites:

Sacred Lands, which has a lot of documentation about the history of the site, including photos from as early as 1867 documenting the existence of the shellmound, as well as the following letter:

"In a recent confrontational email exchange that was forwarded to me, local historian Richard Schwartz demanded that the developers cease to use his research into the locations of burials found in the area around 1900 4th Street. Schwartz has documented more than 450 burials in the immediate area. The exchange was so full of misinformation from the developer that archaeologist Chris Dore was compelled to enter the fray and comment:

Dear Ms Seaver:

I really have no business jumping in here, but need to since I was copied on this e-mail and the archaeological facts in your e-mail are incorrect. You are very mistaken. There has been a lot of evidence presented, both professionally and in the public environmental process, that the 1900 4th parcel sits in the middle of CA-ALA-307. This site is an archaeological site determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and listed on the California Register of Historical Resources. It was recommended eligible for listing under all four eligibility criteria (very rare) and demonstrated to have integrity. Where the shellmound, which is just one of likely many archaeological features in this site, is or isn’t located (and archaeologists do know exactly where it is located) is not relevant for the City of Berkeley’s compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act and for their consideration in granting a development permit.


Christopher D. Dore, Ph.D., Registered Professional Archaeologist 10331"

Read on in the link:

Indian People Organizing for Change:

Berkeley Architectural Haritage Association: http://berkeleyheritage.com/berkeley_landmarks/shellmound.html

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