Rinihmu Pulte’irekne: Right Relationship
We cannot overstate the significance of what just happened here in Oakland!
Concept art courtesy Sogora Te'
Sequoia Point, which teens in the 50s and 60s used as a necking spot (ahem, how many Oaklanders were made there?) and from the looks of all the broken bottles and butts is still a prime party spot, is no longer Sequoia Point. And it has been returned to its proper place in history, as Ohlone land. Not a reservation, but a rematriation.
Those five acres have been renamed Rinihmu Pulte’irekne, which means "Above the Red Ocher" in the Chechenyo language, which was spoken by the people of this for 1000 years. (The East Bay has been inhabited since 4000 B.C.)
With a few other Friends of Joaquin Miller Park, I attended the Land Back ceremony in December. Festivities began at dusk, with a shivvering crowd gathered around leathered and feathered dancers from different tribes dancing on the near-freezing patio of the Chabot Science Center. They led the crowd in prayers to the six directions and when it was fully dark, the mass of humanity moved indoors where the Mayan hot chocolate and acorn chocolate chip cookies were. Guests were separated into various inner and outer circles. A banquet was served to the united tribes and tributaries, and everyone enjoyed delicious bites and plant-based beverages from Wahpepah's Kitchen.
The ceremony was broadcast into the planetarium, high tech with low production values, where we could hear the drumming and speeches. A scene about right here on this land unfolded against a background of stars.
Sogore T'e founders Corinna Gould & Johnella LaRose—both Mills College alumnae—recounted their path to this moment. Driving around the East Bay with a VW van full of kids looking for native sites, organizing ceremonies and walks from shellmound to shellmound, they were joined by more and more original people, alive and well.
99 years of missionization, Corinna observed, had permanently changed food sources and waterways. As they gathered, they shared family memories. 100 years ago you could drink out of every body of water, she says, and sleep under the stars.
After building homes and jails for others, the mission slaves were finally freed. I did my research and learned that in 1823, two hundred years ago, this generation of cultural refugees tried to start over. But in 1850 California became a state, bringing with it the chaos of the Gold Rush and the Indian Wars. There was a $5 bounty on the literal head of an indigenous person, about $200 in today's dollars—an impossible thought in this building full of priceless people! Those who survived the intentional genocide had to identify as Mexican, and were kept in poverty as a class, homeless and hunted in their homeland. But they survived. And kept their essence alive.
Then there came an idea that "begins to heal the original sin of America, an act within all of our power." Giving land back. Simple and beautiful. But full of rules and regulations.
Mayor Libby Schaaf told the story of how she first awoke to the concept of rematriation when she watched the documentary, Beyond Recognition (see the trailer here.) "Like many good things," she recalled, "This movement started with women and art." After that it was a no-brainer and they set about finding a piece of Oakland.
She described how there was no legal model for the concept of Land Back. It's not a lease. It's not a sale. It's not a grant. It's not a secession. Using "creative bureaucracy," the team of lawyers created a new thing: A "Reserved Interest Cultural Contribution Easement;" land within the community that will perpetually be used by and under the care of its original people.
Sogore T'e, the nonprofit trust to which so many Oaklanders gift Shuumi, an annual tax or tribute, is the first indigenous woman led land trust in the US to be given back city land. The Land Back movement is taking place all over the world right now. And Oakland created a toolkit to guide other cities, states, and nations through a heart-led process of returning indigenous lands to indigenous hands. Turning typical competitive land agreements on their head, this process rejects the scarcity model and re-frames land use with a consciousness of abundance.
In her last official act, characteristic of her big Oakland love, Mayor Schaaf signed the agreement. And the party busted out. They even gave out living trees as party favors.
What comes next is restoring that hillside to health, with humans as part of the natural system, not possessing it. Donations are being raised to help build an open shelter in the shape of a basket, inverted and protective, where the languages and cultural traditions of this area can find a permanent home.
Stars in the sky are not just about science, but the stories of all indigenous people, everywhere. This was a true moment of magnitude, and it felt like something had clicked, astrologically, back into place. Right relationship with Earth is our only hope at this turning point. I am so grateful that people who know what that means will be literally looking out at, and for Oakland, above what's left of the red ocher.
And don't forget!
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