The city of Oakland has announced a historic plan to return five acres of land back to Indigenous stewardship.
The parcel of land, called Sequoia Point, is located within the city-operated Joaquin Miller Park. If approved by city council, the plan would see the property transferred into the hands of the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, an Indigenous women-led nonprofit leading land “rematriation” projects, as well as the Confederated Villages of Lisjan Nation, an East Bay Ohlone Tribe.
The proposal will allow the city to grant a cultural conservation easement in perpetuity to the Land Trust. This would allow the Land Trust to finally root important cultural practices in the safety of their own ancestral territory, which currently sits within a park whose major historic draw is the preservation of the home of poet Joaquin Miller, called “The Abbey.”
The move, announced Sept. 8, has been in the works since 2017. It began as a discussion between Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and tribal chairperson Corrina Gould, seeking to address abuses of Indigenious peoples by European settlers, per an announcement by the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust.
Since the 18th century, the Chochenyo-speaking Ohlone people, who are indigenous to the East Bay area, saw their territory stolen by settlers. The colonization persisted for generations thereafter, often violently.
“I am committed to returning land to Indigenous stewardship, to offer some redress for past injustices to Native people,” Mayor Schaaf said in a statement. “I hope the work we are doing in Oakland with the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust can serve as a model for other cities working to return Indigenous land to the Indigenous community we stole it from.”
Oakland's plan to plan to return five acres of land back to Indigenous stewardship was announced Sept. 8, 2022. (Photo courtesy of City of Oakland)
The Land Trust has big plans for the easement. The Chochenyo-speaking Ohlone people will immediately begin working to address environmental needs, cleaning up the land and restoring habitats. In the long term, the tribe hopes it becomes a ceremonial space, complete with a gathering structure – shaped like an Ohlone basket – where they can continue to educate and recreate.
“This agreement will restore our access to this important area, allowing a return of our sacred relationship with our ancestral lands in the hills,” tribal Chairwoman Corrina Gould said in a statement. “The easement allows us to begin to heal the land and heal the scars that have been created by colonization for the next generations.”
Partnerships between cities and Indigenous-led organizations are an integral strategy of the global Land Back Movement, which seeks to reclaim stolen Indigenous land. Previous efforts by Sogorea Te’ Land Trust have seen smaller victories, like establishing a community garden for Indigenous communities. Elsewhere in the U.S., the Chi-Nations Youth Council and nonprofit NeighborSpace have worked with the city of Chicago in order to established the First Nation Garden in a previously vacant lot.
On the evening of Sept. 13, the Land Trust and the City of Oakland will solicit feedback about the project and potential plans in a virtual town hall. (Prior registration is required to attend and can be done here.)
The following day, the City’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee will review the project, joined by other stakeholders, including current nonprofit stewards of the park, Friends of Joaquin Miller Park. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the plan on Nov. 1. The Land Trust continues to solicit donations to support the project, through their Rematriate the Land Fund.
Despite previous applications in the past, and decades-old legal battles, the Ohlone, whose territories span well past San Francisco in the north and the border of Big Sur to the South, the tribe has yet to be recognized by the federal government.
Marielle Argueza is Next City’s INN/Columbia Journalism School intern for Summer-Fall 2022. She’s a journalist based in New York City with more than ten years of experience. Her beats have included education, immigration, labor, criminal justice and climate. Her work in K-12 education is award-winning and she was recognized multiple times by the California News Publishers Association. She is a recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School, where she was Toni Stabile Investigative Fellow. During her time earning her master’s degree, she drew from her extensive knowledge of local journalism to report stories on the city, state and national level. Her work includes a story on Harlem’s last assisted-living facility for people living with HIV/AIDS; a profile on New York State’s first Farmers Union; and a database of deaths within the Milwaukee County Jail. She is also a recipient of other fellowships and scholarships from several notable organizations within the news industry including the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN), ProPublica, and the Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS).