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I recently read Blues City: A Walk in Oakland by local resident Ishmael Reed. Reed essentially runs down the local history here in the Eastbay from the genocidal insanity of early settlers to the outright land thievery of the first Mayor of Oakland to the concerted resistance of the Panthers as he takes the reader through various parts of this unique city. Reed gives good recognition throughout his book to the people who seem to have be ignored by everyone else, namely the brown and the black. At one point he mentions Shellmound in Emeryville along the SF Bay where ancient Ohlone burial grounds were bulldozed quite recently to build the hyperhip superchic consumer paradise Bay Street Mall. Overall Ishmael Reed reminded me of the reality of the indigenous history on the land that I presently reside on. I am like a young warrior sprung into action as the land I walk on has suddenly come to life.
I attended the Alcatraz Sunrise Ceremony last Thursday and there was massive solidarity for indigenous sovereignty and most notably this year a voice for white reconciliation with indigenous peoples. An Irish fellow with IRA ties was invited to speak in solidarity with American Indians and he spoke of Ireland being the first colony of the British before even America. He then gave an apology to indigenous peoples for the conduct of the Irish throughout history, as many of us have traveled to the “New World” and become all too complicit in armies and armed groups and have acted in murderous, racist and genocidal ways (now we simply join and serve the racist institutions like many of the rest of Americas most fortunate immigrants and we think it is all good).
We give ourselves credit for hard work and we hardly ever recognize the criminal actions that are a foundation for our success. We as Irish people and as “white” people have decimated the indigenous population of this land and enslaved and murdered millions of Africans, really all the way up to this day with all of our wars and institutions. The Irish in particular helped to introduce and reinforce racist caste thinking on the West coast, because they were stepped on in the East and they knew that they could set themselves up above the black and brown in the West. I take responsibility as an Irish-American to work against these past actions and strive toward racial reconciliation, justice and the destruction of the caste system and thinking. We should be prepared to convince our our fellow citizens, Irish, white, whatever to express regret for our actions toward indigenous peoples(and others) and then take progressive action toward justice and reconciliation. We must repent for war and genocide that has accursed our nation since the very first days of violence, and to lead the way for reconciliation of nations and cooperation in the effort to rectify the deeds of this nation. That is probably the only way to alter the current course of events which is an eerie repeat of 30 year old history, an eerie repeat of 60 year old history, an eerie repeat of 90 year old history, an eerie repeat of our entire history which is plainly a curse that we never shall escape until we deal with this history in a profound way.
The particulars of the present struggle are this. Indigenous peoples have demanded a return of the remains of over 14,000 Ohlone indigenous peoples held in lockers at the University of California at Berkeley to be returned to indigenous authorities to receive proper ceremonial burial and rest. People whose remains were dug up from Shellmound must be returned and everyone in the Bay Area should boycott the Bay Street Mall in Emeryville.
I was out there from noon to 3pm on Friday informing shoppers who passed the small Ohlone memorial that the mall was in fact built on a Native American sacred burial ground and that they should reconsider shopping at the mall at all. The demo was all of a dozen people at its height. There were a few people at each of the three entrances to the Mall with signs like THIS MALL IS BUILT OVER A SACRED INDIAN BURIAL GROUND and I myself was posted at the middle entrance next to the faux memorial with a bunch of kids. To add insult to injury the streets at that intersection are disgustingly named Shellmound and Ohlone Way. The only thing worse than genocide is probably following it up with fake concerns and more oppression.
The greatest hypocrisy is that in this “progressive” Bay Area we are actually continuing to practice outright disrespect for indigenous peoples as we are currently digging up their remains with disrespect and impunity on Treasure Island to complete the new span of the Bay Bridge.
The corporate interest, who have also apparently erected this Ohlone memorial as a false disneylike representation of the original burial mound which is half stolen (by UC Berkeley) half buried under the concrete of the Mall, felt so threatened by less than a dozen women, kids and a few men at one point called the police and they all showed up and surrounded me and asked me if I was in charge. I said that I just showed up today to participate and I donít know of any leaders, and they told me to make sure that no one left any flyers on windshields, and no one stepped into the street to pass out flyers and no one left the stretch of sidewalk where we stood to educate shoppers, and that no one entered the mall or came too close to the stores.
The rent-a-cop for the Corporate Mall property then attempted to deem the area of the Ohlone exhibit as off limits to our demonstration and leafletting. This one set off my righteousness meter and I proceeded to give this rentacop a verbal lashing in full public display, with three real cops watching on from 15 feet(and later giving me the smirk), with the calm intellectual tone and wit of rational intellectual authority about the implicit right to educate shoppers who passed by or through the Ohlone memorial and the ridiculous attempt of anyone to subvert this clearly logical right to advocate for the Ohlone people at their very memorial that had been erected by the Mall itself. The rentacop gave me a business card identifying himself as Tyrone K. Wah director of public safety IPC International Corporation which is based outside of Chicago,IL and I asked if I could quote him that we were not allowed to leaflet, educate the public or demonstrate on the grounds of the Ohlone memorial. He quickly retracted his arbitrary attempt to restrict us to one strip of sidewalk (we won that battle of wits), but the real police duly informed me of a recent law that states that we must gain permission from the corporation to demonstrate and then we will be given a “designated area” (apparently we will be legislated right out of our rights in this country).
There were a few older Indian women sitting in chairs in the background and some brothers seated and drumming and I was pretty much solo standing tall on the corner with a sign reading SACRED LAND surrounded by five or six kids handing out 4×6 flyers to cars and pedestrians about the sacred site asking people to recognize the indigenous history and boycott the mall. They handed the flyers and I used my utmost skills in public relations to tell one person after another, “We are reminding people that this Bay St. Mall was in fact built on an ancient Native American burial ground, and that out of respect we ask you not to shop here.”
Many people were visibly troubled in their conscience. Other people atleast showed some respect. This made the entire day worthwhile. I think that many citizens are generally responsive to indigenous issues and they just need to be reached in an intelligent way. There is something beautiful about seeing people consider these deep issues, and speaking something simple and beautiful that tries their souls, out on the sidewalk as they enter the mall for the biggest shopping day of the year and have pause. I have though about leaving this country, long before Bush the 2nd ever stepped into office for a first or second term, because I have felt like such an alien. After connecting with my brothers Running Wolf, Tashi and Zakariyya at Alcatraz I remember that sacred connection to the land that inspires our struggle. We should all feel the power of indigenous people in the struggle for justice. Our history and our society is so ripe with contradictions and fissures that we should all be relentlessly pounding on these weak points, and building solidarity between black, brown and white.
Four directions. All nations. Full circle.
NATE COLLINS lives in Berkeley. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org