Land Acknowledgement in Berkeley, CA

Berkeley Friends Meeting Acknowledges Ohlone Homeland

Plaque honoring the Ohlone people near the entrance to the Berkeley Friends Meetinghouse

In August 2019, Berkeley Friends (Vine Street) Meeting installed a plaque by the Meetinghouse entrance which reads, “The Berkeley Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) acknowledges that this Meetinghouse is on the traditional land of the Chochenyo Ohlone in the territory of the Huichuin.”

Genie Stowers, current clerk of the meeting’s Social and Environmental Action Committee described the process that led to the posting of this plaque: 

Friends had been following local news about the preservation of Ohlone shell mounds in West Berkeley.  The city had designated a multi-block area including the shell mounds as a “Berkeley City Landmark,” which restricted development of the property. The site is also listed on the California Register of Historical Resources.  

When a developer proposed to build on that site, Friends joined the Ohlone people in protesting the disturbance of the site.  After conversations with one of the leaders of that protest, Corrina Gould, the meeting invited her to speak to the meeting community about what the Ohlone people were facing. The Ohlone are one of several tribes in  California that have lost their land base completely. Maintaining community, culture, and government structure without ties to a homeland is extremely challenging to their survival as a people. 

As the relationship developed, conversations about public acknowledgment emerged.  The Committee drafted language for an acknowledgment statement and submitted it to Corrina Gould, who made several corrections.  Genie Stowers emphasized the importance of collaborating with local tribal leaders in creating an acknowledgment statement.  The names and relationships of bands, tribes, and federations can be confusing to an outsider, and homelands are often misrepresented on maps.

The meeting also learned that the Ohlone had set up a land trust (the Sogorea Te Land Trust), to receive funds to enable the tribe to buy back a portion of their traditional homeland.  While the word “reparations” never came up, the Ohlone were requesting that people around the Bay Area pay what could be considered a “property tax” to build up the land trust.  Berkeley Meeting decided to include an appropriate amount in the taxes section of the meeting’s budget, assuring that it would be paid out regularly and encapsulating the symbolism of funds due to the Ohlone.

Berkeley Meeting’s experience suggests several useful steps for Quaker meetings and churches exploring the possibility of acknowledging the homelands on which they gather each week: 

* Begin by reaching out to support a public concern that affects local Indigenous people. 

* Meet and talk with leaders of that group about the challenges they face.

* Educate your meeting about the issues and concerns of local Indigenous people.

* Get advice from the local Indigenous leaders on a public acknowledgment statement. Would they welcome such a statement? How should it be worded? How should it name the original people in the area?

* Ask what the tribe needs from the non-Indigenous community. Answers might vary – perhaps publicity and education about local disputes, or help gaining access to some traditional homelands for ceremonies, to contributions of some kind to support the tribe’s goals to regain some land.  Discern what is possible for the meeting to do.

* See what develops in the meeting’s relationship with the local group, after the “basics” are settled.