Oakland City Council: Vote No on Ohlone Cultural Easement at Sequoia Point

It’s not the fact that Sogorea Te Land Trust may be receiving a Cultural Conservation Easement grant of 5-acres of land, called Seqouia Point, in Oakland’s Joaquin Miller Park that bothers me.

Or that this is the product of Libby Schaaf’s (Mayor of Oakland) unilateral dealings with Corrina Gould (Spokesperson for Sogorea Te Land Trust, alleged Tribal Chair Person of Confederated Villages of the Lisjan Nation, INC.)

It’s the fact that other local Ohlone tribal groups weren’t consulted during the process of creating the easement we see proposed today.

Also: this still isn’t LandBack. It’s just an easement.

Land is not being conveyed from the City of Oakland, to any entity, as Sogorea Te Land Trust claims. An easement just gives them the right to use Sequoia Point as they chose, within the parameters of the Memorandum of Agreement entered into by the City of Oakland and Sogorea Te Land Trust. The City of Oakland retains ownership of the 5-acre area in Joaquin Miller Park–part of Oakland’s Recreation and Parks Department.

There are some important limitations listed in the propose ordinance you can find in the City of Oakland – Calendar. This includes a clause regarding public access, as well as permit free operations within the scope of the agreement and zoning requirements.

But this is a small part of a large document, that also excludes the Sequoia Point land grant, and (possibly) any future projects at the Point, from certain CEQA, NAGPRA, and AB52 Rules, which have requirements that projects on or near Tribal Cultural Resources must follow a consultation and scoping process with representatives of all the tribal groups of the area.

Bypassing these requirements would completely preclude any other tribe’s rightful claim to be a part of, or hold a share of interest in, this easement. Other tribes would not get a say in what happens at Sequoia Point, a place which other Ohlone groups claim as a part of their tribal homeland. Where each of the Ohlone Tribal Groups should share an equal interest, and have an equal voice.

The most curious part of the Agenda Report, regarding the “Cultural Conservation Easement to Sogorea Te’ Land Trust in Joaquin Miller Park” is the section marked “Public Outreach / Interest”. This section, in its entirety, states:

City staff and the Land Trust have conducted substantial outreach. The Land Trust, both with and without City staff, met with the Friends of Joaquin Miller Park several times to receive input and feedback about the project, and the organization enthusiastically supports the project. District 4 Councilmember Sheng Thao hosted an online Town Hall about the project on September 13, 2022. More than one hundred people registered for the meeting and participants expressed strong support for the project and no opposition. The Land Trust and City staff have also presented the project multiple times to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission. The Commission recommended formal and enthusiastic approval at its meeting on September 14. Since the project was publicly announced on September 8, 2022, there has been a broad expression of support and enthusiasm from the public at large.

City of Oakland Agenda Report for Item # 10 22-0849, on for City Council Meeting Nov-1-2022
The passage above contains no mention of City Staff attempting to contact other tribal groups in the area.

Proponents of the easement appear to have had one very popular online Town Hall, and contacted the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, and the Friends of Joaquin Miller Park, for their opinions.

But there is no mention of either City Staff, nor Sogorea Te Land Trust, reaching out to any other Ohlone Tribal Group in this area other than the Confederated Villages of the Lisjan Nation, INC.–who is conveniently fronted by the same person as the Sogorea Te Land Trust, Corrina Gould.

Most projects or proposals on this scale would require some form of Tribal Consultation, or Scoping; this proposal especially, because–for all intents and purposes–Sequoia Point is being considered, or treated, as a Tribal Cultural Resource.

When a city is creating an Environmental Impact Report or Assessment for any proposed public project (or project on public lands) they must exercise due diligence in requesting from the Native American Heritage Commission a list of tribes to consult regarding possible Tribal Cultural Resources possibly affected by the project, and develop ways to avoid or mitigate damage to those resources.

This is an example of a 2019 Tribal Consultation List for Richmond, California.

2019 Tribal Consultation List for Richmond, California – This list is public record and was included as part of an EIR filed in the City of Richmond, California.
As you can see, there is more than one Tribal Organization to consult with. There are seven organizations on this Tribal Consultation List, next to the associated tribes composing those organizations.

FYI: No, this list is not radically different in Oakland, California. I couldn’t find one quickly enough to use as an example. But please believe me, it looks the same, and still has more than one Tribal Organization. [… It’s also really difficult to track down one of these lists outside of an Environment Impact Report/Assessment.]

My point is: cities are required to send letters to every single one of these organizations requesting consultation. Those letters, and replies by tribal representatives, must be filed in the Environmental Impact Report/Assessment; along with a report regarding the request for consultation and any subsequent consultation and scoping activities.

The law requiring requests for consultations, and the consultation lists, were created and required in order to ensure that Native American land rights are respected; Native American Graves, and Cultural Resources are preserved, and protected from desecration.

This is done by codifying the Tribal Consultation process in the California Environmental Quality Act; thereby ensuring that Native American Tribes have a voice, and a say, in what happens on their traditional homelands, to their sacred places, and tribal resources.

The preamble of AB52, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, both specifically state this is the legislative intent of these laws.

The well-defined and accepted procedure of the Tribal Consultation Process was not followed to create the proposed Sequoya Point Cultural Easement.

To grant this land to one Ohlone group, without even talking to the others, is wrong; and in opposition to the Equity of all Ohlone People of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Choosing to award one single tribal group with land grants, while simultaneously excluding all others, sows division among indigenous people. And it interferes with tribal sovereignty in a way that disenfranchises thousands of indigenous people from having ownership of a place and project that is supposed to be for them.

The City of Oakland is meddling in tribal politics in the same way the US does in the Middle East. Or Haiti. Or any other place where people have turned around and said, “maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.” Where the actual people living in those countries have done things like burn flags, and tell us to get out. [Judgments reserved.]

The same way that some tribes were denied recognition by the US Government for petty, arbitrary reasons from the start–just as other Tribes were arbitrarily, and capriciously unrecognized [“removed from the Tribal Rolls”] during the Termination Era for the same.

This meddling is unwelcome, and sets a dangerous precedent across the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as California. The precedent that Tribal Consultation doesn’t matter.

Tribal Consultation matters.

All Ohlone Tribal Groups should be consulted, and have an equal share–and an equal voice–in the Ohlone Cultural Easement at Sequoia Point.

Excluding the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as other tribal groups, from what’s happening at Sequoia Point, is not equitable. And the easement should not go forward without proper consultation with all affected tribes of the this area. Especially since this is a land grant made in perpetuity,

https://opr.ca.gov/ceqa/tribal/ – Governor’s Office of Planning and Research “Tribal Resources”

PDF – Native American Heritage Commission, Tribal Consultation Under AB52: Requirements and Best Practices

http://www.muwekma.org – Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area website