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3rd annual Shellmound Walk in San Francisco Bay Area

Published Nov 2, 2006 8:35 PM

Indian People Organizing for Change and the Vallejo Inter-Tribal Council’s Indigenous Sacred Sites Preservation Committee held the second annual Shellmound Walk from Oct. 12 to 20 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Indigenous people and their supporters walked every day for two weeks to struggle to preserve their ancient burial mounds from real estate development and other devastation.

IPOC has stated that the walk is held to say that the original people of the Bay Area are not extinct, to honor the ancestors and call attention to their ongoing struggle, and to dismiss the disinformation that has been used historically to justify the destruction of their ancient temples.

Organizers kicked off the walk with announcements at the International Indian Treaty Council’s annual Oct. 12 Sunrise Ceremony at Alcatraz on Indigenous Peoples’ Day and an evening potluck dinner at the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland.

This year the Shellmound Walk traveled through the East Bay and Marin County, going through Solano Community College, Glen Cove, Pt. Richmond, El Cerrito, and UC Berkeley; then across the Bay to Sausalito, Tiburon, San Anselmo, Lagunitas, Pt. Reyes and Kule Loklo. Kule Loklo is a former Miwok village now controlled by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which allows the Miwoks to interpret their former home, but not reside there.

The struggle to preserve the ancient shellmounds is a struggle focused on the survival of the many Pacific Coastal peoples who were twice colonized. Spain’s conquistador army and priests built the mission system by forcibly rounding up and enslaving tens of thousands. During the Gold Rush, the U.S. moved in to enforce its proclamation of Manifest Destiny—that it had a right to take the continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

The Bay Area shellmounds are traditional cemeteries and ancient monuments of First Nations including the Ohlones, Coast Miwok, Bay Miwok, Mutsun, Plains Miwok, Yokuts, Wappo, Patwin and several other nations. They were temples made of shells, older than the pyramids in Egypt, and originally so huge that they appear as landmarks on the original Coast Guard maps of the area. Some of them have been carbon-dated at over 5,000 years.

Native traditions of caring for what shellmound activists call “living cemeteries” were disrupted by the genocidal attacks and land thefts of the Gold Rush days, followed by the institution of capitalist private property laws.

The Spanish looted the shellmounds, but the destruction of them began with the Gold Rush. A shellmound located in what is now Aquatic Park, north of San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square, was destroyed in 1861, reported Alexander Taylor in an “Indianology Series” in the May 1861 California Farmer and Journal of Useful Science. As late as 1909 Nels Nelson counted 425 still-existing shellmounds in an archeological report of the Stevenson Street Shellmound, which was located near the corner of Market and First streets in downtown San Francisco.

The destruction of the shellmounds was officially excused via misrepresentation of what they actually were. Until recently archeologists downplayed the evidence of thousands of human burials, which prove these were funerary places like the pyramids. They purposely mischaracterized them as “middens” or garbage heaps. In his 1965 “The Archeology of San Francisco,” Robert Suggs wrote: “The Emeryville shellmound was, in fact, little more than a huge garbage heap. ... Burials were also made in the discarded shells and debris.”

The Emeryville Shellmound was 60 feet high and more than 600 feet in diameter, covering 19 acres. It formerly held at least four historical levels of burial sites going back at least 2,500 years. Recently a shopping mall was built over what was left of the lower level, despite complaints by construction workers that they were finding hundreds of human remains. Those reports were verified by archeologists but were glossed over by the local authorities to let greedy developers make profits.

Long-time shellmound activist Perry Matlock told WW: “The heartbreaking ongoing devastation of these ancient monuments should be stopped. They should receive UNESCO World Heritage status and be returned to the Native Nations.”

For updates on future events write to IPOC, POB 796, Alameda, CA 94501; call the VITC at (707) 558-8776 (www.vallejointertribalcouncil.org); or e-mail the Shellmounder News at [email protected].

Information was gathered for this report by activists with the Shellmounder News and supporters of the Muwekma Ohlone Nation. The report of the Stevenson St. Shellmound is from the Coyote Press Archives of California Pre-History, “Archeological Excavations at CA-SFR-112,” Allen G. Pastron, 1909.