Reclaiming sacred spaces
8:00 am Tuesday December 6, 2011
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In 1969, the group Indians of All Tribes coordinated a takeover and occupation of Alcatraz Island to draw attention to the repression of Indigenous peoples. A largely successful Coast Guard blockade kept most of the roughly 80 who set out on boats from reaching Alcatraz, but the few who did make it held the island for 19 months. Pictured: A Coast Guard boat intercepting two Native Americans trying to get to Alcatraz. Photo Courtesy El Tecolote Archives, 1969

Following Thanksgiving Day, shoppers crowded the Bay Street Mall in Emeryville for “Black Friday,” a massive shopping event widely considered the busiest shopping day of the year.
But for the past 10 years, Black Friday hasn’t just filled the Bay Street Mall with shoppers, it has also filled it with protesters.

Protesters passed out fliers that read “Do not shop here,” and held signs emblazoned with slogans like, “Our burial ground is not a playground or a shopping mall.”
“We are here in solidarity with all sacred sites being desecrated,” said Wounded Knee Deocampo.

Native speakers from several organizations, including Indian People Organizing for Change, shared their thoughts on attending this “Buy Nothing Day” in protest against Black Friday.

“We are asking folks to not shop here, to remind people that this is Ohlone land, for time immemorial,” said Corrina Gould, co-founder of IPOC.

The Bay Street Mall sits on a “shellmound,” a traditional burial site of the Ohlone people, who were the original inhabitants of the Bay Area. At one point there were hundreds of shellmounds, but the one in Emeryville was thought to be the largest, spanning 350 feet in diameter and 60 feet high.

The site has been repeatedly disturbed, first by the Spanish invasion in the 1700s and more recently by several industrial and luxury constructions. The Bay Street Mall is just the most recent disturbance of this Native American religious and cultural symbol.

“In other parts of the world, people work to preserve ancient sites,” Gould said.

Before the shellmound was flattened, the remains were excavated, and now reside at UC Berkeley against the wishes of the Ohlone people. The Native American community has protested and encouraged boycotting of the mall since before its construction.

“It is not a unique thing,” said Morning Star Gali from the Ajumawi band of Pit River. “This is happening everywhere. Indigenous, sacred spaces and burial sites [are being] developed for recreation.”

The event closed with chanting and singing by Native groups and their allies. As people continued to pass by the protest, Corrina Gould commented that a large part of this event was the education of people.
“Once they find out it’s a burial site, they can make an informed decision about where to shop,” she said.