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OAKLAND— At a press conference yesterday, the city of Oakland announced its plans to return five acres of city land to Indigenous stewardship. The city will host hearings to consider transferring the land to the East Bay Ohlone Tribe, Confederated Villages of Lisjan Nation and Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, an Indigenous women-led group based in the San Francisco area.

“What started out with a casual conversation between Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Tribal Chairperson Corrina Gould in 2018 has grown into a partnership between the City and the [Sogorea Te’] Land Trust to begin to address the historic harms of Oakland’s founding,” the city of Oakland said in a statement on its website. “Chochenyo-speaking Ohlone people have inhabited Oakland and parts of the East Bay for thousands of years. They were forcibly removed from their land with the arrival of Europeans and descendants of Europeans beginning in the 18th Century.”

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If the plan is approved by the city council, the city will grant a cultural conservation easement — to be held in perpetuity — to the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust. In the short term, the land will be used for natural resource restoration, cultural practices, and public education. Leaders hope to one day create a ceremonial gathering place and structure where Indigenous people and their guests can gather. 

“I am committed to returning land to Indigenous stewardship, to offer some redress for past injustices to Native people,” Oakland Mayor Libby 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.”

At the press conference, leaders unveiled plans for a structure envisioned at the site, designed to look like an inverted Ohlone basket. Corrina Gould, co-founder of Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, told the crowd that the British Museum owns the only remaining baskets used by the Ohlone people.

“This agreement will restore our access to this important area, allowing a return of our sacred relationship with our ancestral lands in the hills," Confederated Villages of Lisjan 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.”

A community meeting hosted by Sogorea Te’ Land Trust and the City of Oakland is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 5:30 p.m. to provide opportunities for the community to learn more about the project and provide feedback.

The Confederated Villages of Lisjan is one of many Ohlone tribes in northern California mistakenly documented to be extinct in the 1920s by an anthropologist. Each tribe has its own history and has been petitioning the U.S. government for federal acknowledgment for years.

Various media reports state that the land transfer is considered the first case of a city considering giving land back to Indigenous people. Other cities, such as Minneapolis, are currently being approached to give parcels of land back to Indigenous stewardship.

Currently, the American Indian Movement’s Twin Cities Chapter is proposing for the acquisition of a park on Minneapolis’s southside to accommodate the region’s Indigenous homeless population. 

“The solution to Minneapolis’s Indigenous homeless encampments is the return of East Phillips park back to the American Indian community,” Mike Forcia, Chairman of AIM-Twin Cities, said. “We would use the space to house a temporary navigation center and immediately shut down the encampments.”

Last November, seven candidates for Minneapolis mayor said they’d consider giving land back to Indigenous people, including current Mayor Jacob Frey.

To date there have been no formal discussions with the Mayor’s office or Minneapolis’s City Council.

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About The Author
Author: Darren ThompsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a staff reporter for Native News Online who is based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.