The West Berkeley Shellmound/Village site is the oldest inhabited site in the entire Bay Area. This site once held at least one shellmound/funerary site of the Ohlone people. It is older than the pyramids in Egypt and many of the major cities in the world.
If developers have their way, a five-story building with shops, apartments, and an underground parking garage will be built on the site of a historic Indian village at 1900 Fourth Street, Berkeley, on what is currently Spenger’s parking lot. A coalition of Native organizations, individuals, and families, as well as groups and individuals involved in historic preservation, social justice, and cultural diversity have created an ad hoc committee to oppose this development. We aim to dedicate this unique site as a memorial to thousands of years of habitation by Native people in Berkeley and as a tribute to their survival today. We urgently solicit your support.
Unique and Significant
Generally thought to have been the earliest settlement on San Francisco Bay, Native people established a thriving village community here some 5,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence points to an exceptionally sophisticated maritime way of life. On a typical day in this lost world of long ago, boats were launched for fishing, for hunting water fowl and sea mammals, or to ferry people and goods around the Bay on trading expeditions.
There’s no doubt that the site was also an important ceremonial center—sacred ground for those who lived here and indeed sacred ground for their descendants today. Archaeologists have found evidence of a large ceremonial house, along with ritual animal burials (including a condor burial), charmstones, quartz crystals, and bird-bone whistles—items which still have significant spiritual meaning to Native people today.
The site was also a cemetery, and past excavations have uncovered scores of human burials. The possibility that the proposed development with its underground garage will disturb ancestral remains and spirits is sacrilege to much of the contemporary Indian community and is viewed with horror, outrage, and a deep sense of insult. Would Berkeley permit a development to be built on a cemetery for white people?
In a series of proclamations passed earlier this year the Berkeley City Council affirmed the rights of Native Americans and called upon the elected officials to consult with the Native community on issues affecting their well-being, cultural sovereignty, and spiritual practice. The issue at hand tests whether these resolutions will be followed, or whether they represent just one more “broken promise.”
The site has been declared eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places, suggesting that its significance goes beyond just local interest.
Aside from historical, cultural, and social justice concerns, the scale of the proposed development is upsetting to local residents and to shop-keepers of the adjacent Fourth Street District. Grossly out of scale with its surroundings, the proposed development will change the tone and ambience of the area, add significantly to the traffic, and in the words of one critic commenting on its architectural style it would “bring a little bit of Walnut Creek to Berkeley.”
As dramatic evidence of thousands of years of human habitation, the West Berkeley Village Site was once marked by a gigantic mound—a mountain of shells, ashes from household and ceremonial fires, human burials, and assorted implements ritually interred with the deceased. This mound was as tall as a two-story building and 300 to 400 feet long. Raided by early Anglo residents for resources such as soil amendments and shells that could be pulverized into cement, pillaged by pot-hunters, and episodically excavated by archaeologists, this veritable monument to thousands of years of human history in Berkeley has long been obliterated. Its destruction is an example of the misguided work begun by the first European explorers and pursued with unrelenting zeal by every generation since—namely the effort to erase all memory of an Ohlone presence from our landscape and thereby insulate us from needing to acknowledge the tragedy and pain upon which modern life is built and further isolating us from the many benefits that a deeper understanding of Native values, knowledge, and practice might give us. While some signs of pre-European habitation can be found elsewhere in Berkeley—a few mortar holes, fragments of chipped stone, a handful of petroglyphs, a scattering of beads and arrowheads—there is no other place that connects us as fully or as deeply to the long Ohlone past. This is our last chance to consecrate and memorialize the past in the very place where it happened, not to mention giving overdue respect and honor to the Native community of today. We must not squander this last opportunity, and we need your help. (written by Malcolm Margolin)
Please click on the Events page and come to some of the events that are planned for the month of December.
The Environmental Impact Report was released on November 16. The comment period ends February 9, 2016. We need people to make comments on the EIR, but also we need help to try and find experts and other qualified individuals to make comments on the EIR as well. We cannot stress enough how important it is to take advantage of the EIR comment period.
And finally we are asking for financial assistance to pay for legal fees. We need to gather at least $20,000. Checks can be made to CIEA and sent to 526 Grand Ave Oakland CA 94610. Thank you so much for your support