Here’s a breakdown of how these articles are misleading, and what the truth is behind Ohlone Land Back:

1. The “West Berkeley Shellmound” is Not Being Given Back

The Parking Lot was bought for ~$27 Million Dollars.

Nothing about this is an act of charity, or legitimate “return” of native land. The fact that the property being purchased is a 2.2 acre parking lot–instead of a real shellmound–is kind of embarrassing; especially because these headlines are so wrong.

Just because the City of Berkeley City Council voted on an agenda item with the title:

Adopt first reading of an Ordinance authorizing the City to acquire the portion of the West Berkeley Shellmound located at 1900 Fourth Street and also authorizing the City to transfer that property to the Sogorea Te Land Trust, thereby returning the land to the Ohlone people.

City Council Special Meeting eAgenda March 12, 2024

Does not mean that land is actually being returned to Ohlone people.

It’s a conclusionary statement based on the bandwagon fallacy: that donating money, creating cultural easements, and transferring property to the Sogorea Te Land Trust benefits Ohlone people.

And this false equivocation between a non-Ohlone organization, and “The Ohlone People” is dangerously close to the impersonation of a tribe. Especially when the transfer of money, property and benefits meant for the enjoyment of an Ohlone Tribe goes to an organization which is neither a Tribe, nor Ohlone.

2. The City of Berkeley did not Buy the West Berkeley Shellmound

The City of Berkeley only chipped in about $1.5 Million worth of City Money. That’s less than 10% of the total purchase cost of the West Berkeley Parking Lot–which is $27 Million Dollars.

For comparison, Sogorea Te Land Trust kicked in about $5M along with the $20M donation the trust recently received from the Katalay Foundation. So, the Katalay Foundation is the primary underwriter for this purchase.

I just want to note that the Valuation for the land at 1900 4th Street, which are two parcels [57-2101-1-3, and 57-2101-5], is currently $9,690,000.00 (or $9.69M).

…And also let you know that the valuation for this property jumped between 2022, and 2023; from a combined (Land + Improvements) value of $1,306,140, to its current, $9,690,000. That’s a difference of $8,383,860 in value, in just one year. I’m not sure if this has to do with $60K worth of delinquent property taxes being paid in December 2023. But there hasn’t been any obvious change on the ground which would indicate a higher valuation.

All of this is to say that a purchase cost of $27 Million Dollars is way more than what the land is worth.

So, there’s actually a really good chance the inflated cost of the property includes legal fees and losses involved in the decade long struggle of the property.

And, if that’s true, this is much more of a win for the developers than it is for anyone else. Like, $18 Million Dollars more.

3. Sogorea Te Land Trust is Not An Ohlone Tribe or Organization

Sogorea Te is not even an Ohlone word. Sogorea Te is a place name for Glen Cove, in Vallejo, which is currently Wintun and Patwin Territory.

Sogorea Te Land Trust a non-profit Land Trust that’s supposedly gathering money to purchase [Ohlone] land to return to indigenous people, support “rematriation”, create urban gardens, and community centers. However….

None of the money Sogorea Te Land Trust has raised, has benefited any actual Bay Area Tribe.

Not the Yocha Dehe Wintun Tribe, Wintu Tribe of Northern California, Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco, or the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe, just to name a few.

The only group benefitting from the Sogorea Te Land Trust’s work seems to be a corporation posing as a Tribal Government, the Confederated Villages of the Lisjan Nation, INC.

But the fact that:

  • Sogorea Te Land Trust is so often being confused with an Ohlone Tribe, or representing an Ohlone Tribe; and the fact that,
  • Sogorea Te is now accepting land on behalf of “the Ohlone people”; and the fact that,
  • Sogorea Te Land Trust is not correcting this misidentification, false equivocation, or,
    • Making it clear that the Sogorea Te Land Trust is not an Ohlone tribe, and does not speak for one…

Means that the Sogorea Te Land is getting closer and closer to impersonating a tribe, or at least benefitting from the false impression that the Land Trust is an Ohlone Tribe or Ohlone Tribal Organization–which it is not.

4. The West Berkeley Shellmound is not “endangered”

It’s destroyed.

But it’s easier for people to believe they are helping to “undo”, or “right centuries of wrong” by allowing a Land Trust to purchase an insignificant piece of what’s left of the West Berkeley Shellmound.

Wallace, W.; Lathrap, D. (1975) Contributions of the University of California Archaeological Research Facility, Vol. 29, “West Berkeley (CA-Ala-307): A Culturally Stratified Shellmound on the East Shore of San Francisco Bay”

The West Berkeley Shellmound has been declared “one of the most endangered historic places” in the U.S. But it’s a parking lot.

Out of the over 425 historic shellmounds in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Berkeley Shellmound doesn’t even make the list of “endangered places” when you compare it to the shellmounds actively being quarried in San Rafael and Richmond.

I would argue: the only reason the West Berkeley Shellmound has received so much attention is because it’s a flat, empty space which is easy to fit a hundred protestors on top of. [Other shellmounds are behind fences, and protected by Oil, Quarry and Other Industries’ Private Security Companies.]

But, as a sacred site that needs protecting, the West Berkeley Shellmound is at the bottom of the list–mostly because it’s already been destroyed; and, also, because the Spenger’s Parking Lot is not where the shellmound used to be.

Map of West Berkeley showing CA-Ala-307 (West Berkeley Shellmound)

The historic location of the West Berkeley Shellmound is on the other side of the train tracks, under what’s now mostly a Truitt & White Lumber Yard.

5. Lisjan has never been the name of any Ohlone Tribe

It’s not even an Ohlone word.

It’s actually a Nisenan place name for “Pleasanton”.

Lisjan (or “lisyan”) does not appear in any historic mission records–or anywhere else–until 1921: when a Muwekma Ohlone ancestor (Jose Guzman) said “Yo soy lisjanes“, to define himself as someone from the Bernal, and Alisal Rancherias, in what’s known as Pleasanton today.

6. Confederated Villages of the Lisjan Nation, INC. is a Corporation, Not a Tribe.

Corporations Are Not Tribes. Corporations can never be tribes. Especially non-profit corporations.

The exercise of sovereignty is not a charitable purpose.

Real tribal governments are tax exempt because they’re actually a sovereign nation under a Constitution. A lot of Corporations claim to be Tribal Governments, but they are lying. It’s fraud, straight out. A Board of Directors does not a Tribal Council make.

7. Corrina Gould isn’t a tribal chairperson.

There are a number of different reasons why Corrina Gould is not a Tribal Chairperson. The fact that the Confederated Villages of the Lisjan Nation, INC. is not a tribe is the strongest. And it’s evidenced on the faces of everyone you see in every picture of CVL’s “tribal members”.

Real Tribal Leaders are actually voted for by Tribal Members who represent all the different families which make up a Tribe.

Look at the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area:

Muwekma Ohlone Tribal Members pose for a picture in San Jose, California during a ceremony to commemorate the removal of the racist Fallon statue.

The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe was federally recognized; they have a documented 10,000 year history of living in the place; not just Federal Documentation, but family trees, and DNA documentation.

The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe is compromised of all the remaining known Indian lineages who survived the California Missions. They have over 700 members.

The reason why the Muwekma Ohlone tribe seems like it’s “The San Jose Tribe” or is only in Santa Clara is because Mission San Jose was down in Fremont. That’s where all the “Indians” got let out from when the Mission systems closed down. So that’s why the Governor issued an order re: squatters on Mission Lands; and why the present-day Muwekma population is distributed the way it is. [That is a completely different historical topic for another day.]

But this is an argument about Traditional, Hereditary Muwekma Territory. And that territory includes Berkeley, and Oakland, and Alameda, and Albany. This whole area is Muwekma Ohlone Territory. The only reason they’re not here is because they haven’t got their land back.

When you look closer, the “tribe” Corrina Gould purports to represent is comprised of her own immediate family members.

Official Portraits of the Confederated Villages of the Lisjan Nation, Inc. have never shown many (if any) members of the tribe Corrina Gould purports to be the Chairwoman of.

Take this into consideration when you compare the Confederated Villages of the Lisjan Nation, INC. to real tribes, like the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area–which has 700+ members from many different families, who have well-documented, hereditary links to their land and ancestors.

The pictures of the Confederated Villages of the Lisjan Nation, INC. usually have 5 or 6 actual Ohlone descendants, and the rest of the crew is comprised of Gould’s non-indigenous (“white”) supporters–who are no more Tribal Members than Ward Churchill or Elizabeth Hoover.

Corrina Gould capitalizes on the public’s confusion about who Ohlone people are and what a tribe is. That’s why so many people mention the “Chochenyo Ohlone”, and the “Lisjan Ohlone” without ever knowing who they’re actually supporting.

If Corrina Gould were really trying to educate the public, she would have told you the truth a long time ago, and actually stepped aside to let the real tribe she came from benefit from the work she purports to do “for Ohlone people”–instead of doing it for her personal benefit, and the benefit of her immediate family members, not the tribe.

It’s up to you to educate yourself before you give money, land, or support to Native People.

We get it, you feel guilty about what your ancestors did to us.

But your desperation to absolve yourself of your White Guilt, and the Sins of Colonization lead you into problematic “fixes”, following straw man causes which end up contributing to the erasure of the very people you’re trying to help.

Which leads me to this last point….

8. If you really want to help Ohlone People:

Stop giving money to the Sogorea Te Land Trust. It does not go to Ohlone People.

The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area is the real, bona fide, tribe of this area.