On April 7, 2018, artifacts from the West Berkeley Shellmound and Emeryville Shellmound, some of them thousands of years old, were removed from storage at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum and, for the first time ever, shown to the general public at the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). More than 300 people joined the California Institute for Community Arts and Culture (ICAN – https://californiaican.org/) and friends in the elegant, light-filled BAMPFA amphitheater to view these remarkable objects and hear a panel of contemporary Native California artists, all skilled in traditional practices, discuss how these objects were made, the aesthetic principles that guided their making, how they were used, their place within Ohlone culture, and their survival to this day. It was an afternoon of wonder, beauty and surprise about the art, craft and practices of the oldest native ancestors who walked the land we now call Berkeley—and how those traditions live on today.
The Sacred Land Film Project filmed the event to increase awareness of what’s at stake in the struggle to protect the West Berkeley Shellmound and Village Site, the first village on the shores of San Francisco Bay, which was founded 5,000 years ago. Even though what was left of the Shellmound was excavated in the 1950s to make way for development, Ohlone ancestors remain underground, and the site continues to be an important location for ceremony for the Ohlone, despite the fact that it is now a 2-acre parking lot. In 2016, developers announced plans to build a four-story housing/retail complex and the Ohlone and their allies have been fighting to protect the site ever since.
Panelists and speakers at the April 2018 event included:
· Linda Yamane, Rumsen Ohlone, is a basketweaver, Tule boat-builder, tribal historian and language advocate who has revived the Rumsian language, an original Ohlone language from the Monterey Bay.
·Jennifer Bates, Central Sierra Mewuk (Miwok), is a member of the Tuolumne Rancheria, where she teaches basketry. She was a founder of the California Indian Basketweavers Association.
· Frank LaPena (1937 -2019), renowned Wintu-Nomtipom/Tenai painter, writer, singer and ceremonial leader, founded Maidu Dancers and Traditionalists and taught Art and Ethnic Studies at CSU Sacramento.
· Fred Velasquez lives in Miwok country in the Sierra foothills. He is a longtime participant in and supporter of Miwok cultural life and is a master craftsman working in stone, bone and shell.
· Ron Goode, tribal chair of the North Fork Mono Indians. He is a cultural leader, fine artist, storyteller, and maker of traditional arts and crafts from bows and arrows to skin tanning.
· Vincent Medina, Muwekma Ohlone, traces his ancestry to the East Bay and is a storyteller who is reviving Chochenyo (the original language of Berkeley). He is a leader in the revival and adaptation of traditional practices. He currently runs Ohlone Café in Berkeley with his partner Louis Trevino.
· Kent Lightfoot is a professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley.
· Malcolm Margolin, author of The Ohlone Way, former publisher of Heyday Books, and director of the California Institute for Community Arts and Culture (CAICAN).
The event was co-sponsored by the California Institute for Community, Art, and Nature; the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology; the Berkeley Art Museum and the Richmond History Museum.