Bay Street Mall, Emeryville: Shopping on Sacred Ground

December 10, 2012


Reprinted from the Oakland Tribune
By Anne Lowe, My Word

Posted:   12/04/2012 10:17:08 AM

As we shove our way through holiday shopping, I hope we can remember the reasons why we were grateful on Thanksgiving.

I hope we can stop running around long enough to be thankful for the land under our feet and remember the people who have held that land sacred for so long. Did anyone remember that November was National Native American Heritage Month?

Some residents certainly remember. Last Black Friday, which also happened to be Native American Heritage Day, there were more than 50 people gathered at the Emeryville Bay Street Mall — and not for shopping.

People held signs that said, “Protect Sacred Sites,” and “You Are Shopping On Ohlone Burial Ground.”

They were protesting the destruction of the oldest and largest Ohlone burial ground, called a shellmound, the rest of which still lies under the Bay Street Mall.

The Ohlone people are the original residents of the Bay Area, and a number of Ohlone descendants led the protest on Bay Street. However, according to the U.S. government’s official list of recognized tribes, there is no Ohlone tribe.

Emeryville City Council used that missing legal piece to help justify the destruction of the shellmound.

The shellmound that formerly stood on the site of the Bay Street Mall was three stories high and 350 feet in diameter — longer than the Statue of Liberty lying it on its side. It was as old as the pyramids.

During its desecration in 2000, thousands of Ohlone ancestors were removed from the site and hundreds were left in the ground beneath the mall.

All that’s left to commemorate the shellmound are a small, poorly labeled mound of dirt and grass, and the street names “Ohlone Way” and “Shellmound Street.”

If the mall had been constructed on top of a Christian, Jewish or Muslim cemetery, the destruction would have been called a hate crime.

The fight for respect of ancestral grounds in the Bay has been going on since the Europeans first settled here. There are the burial grounds under the tennis courts in Dolores Park and under an athletic training center next to Memorial Stadium at UC Berkeley.

In 1975, an Ohlone man was interviewed on KQED about a burial site being covered under Interstate 280 in South San Francisco. A beautifully trimmed cemetery lies behind him, on the other side of the highway. He tells the interviewer, “As the Indians see it, that’s what it all comes down to … getting the larger society to respect Indian heritage as much as they respect their own.”

His spirit lives on in the proud individuals at the protest on Black Friday.

The Ohlone people and their Native and non-Native allies are still fighting for the rights of their ancestors.

This holiday shopping season, don’t shop at the Emeryville Bay Street Mall. Please find more respectful places to shop.

Learn about this local history and local people.

Share the stories with your children. Teach them that there is a rich history under this ground that should be respected. Teach them that the original residents of this land are alive and well and should have a say in what happens to their sacred sites.

For more information about shellmound sites, and how to get involved, go to

Anne Lowe is an Oakland resident and community advocate.


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