The Glen Cove Waterfront Park in Vallejo, California is a small 15-acre park on the coast of the Carquinez Strait, a natural tidal channel, but the gulf between the two June 16th gatherings could not have been wider.
At the entrance of the park, smoke from smoldering sage rose like a thin mist around nearly 160 Native and non-Native protesters dressed all in black, who beat drums, sang and lined the parking lot holding signs that read “No Celebration for Desecration.”
The drum beats echoed to the other side of the park at the waterfront, U.S. House Representative George Miller, Vallejo City Councilors and a few dozen visitors held a celebratory ribbon cutting to mark the opening of the park after a construction project that created a six-car parking lot and contoured the landscape to improve nearby homeowners’ view of the water.
At the final drumbeat, one of the protesters yelled, “Our ancestors will not be forgotten.”
For the protesters, many of whom belong to the Committee to Protect Glen Cove, the Greater Vallejo Recreation District’s project had come at a steep price: the desecration of a shellmound and burial ground that they thought a cultural easement had been created to preserve.
Led by Corrina Gould, who is Chochenyo/Karkin Ohlone, many of the supporters had spent 109 days last spring and summer occupying the park in a spiritual encampment to stop the local recreation district from razing the shellmound and burial ground beneath the park.
Greater Vallejo Recreation District (GVRD) officials, which had been struggling with Gould and her supporters for nearly 12 years to approve the project, seemed to agree to a compromise by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with two federally recognized tribes the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and the Cortina Band of Wintun.
GVRD officials said a lot of concessions were made, including a smaller parking lot, and that monitors from the two federally recognized tribes were on site during all the construction. Yet Gould and the protesters said the agreement wasn’t followed as six parking spaces were built instead of two, and an estimated six feet of the shellmound was graded and contoured, likely disturbing her ancestors burials, Gould said.
“It’s heart-wrenching,” said Gould. “This is a ceremonial place where we come to pray, where we can connect with the ancestors and connect with the land.”
She added, “I think we were naïve in thinking the recognized tribes would do the right thing. We’ve learned a government is a government.”
The Yocha Dehe chairman, Marshall McKay, is a commissioner on the heritage commission, and he said that the land is the Patwin’s ancestral territory, and that precedent-setting cultural easement will help ensure its protection.
All Ohlone tribes are federally unrecognized, and the California Native American Heritage Commission determined that Yocha Dehe and Cortina were the “most likely descendants,” or tribes that should be consulted on the project.
“So far, it has gone well,” he said. “But, remember, we view the protection of these sites as an ongoing responsibility for which the continued cooperation of the city, GVRD and our tribes is essential.”
No representative from Yocha Dehe attended the celebration.
Formerly known as Sogorea Te, Gould said the site is a former village that dates back to at least 1500 B.C. and was once a vibrant trading outpost used by many tribes for commerce, intermarriage and burials. It was also where her great-great-great grandmother was born.
After the demonstration, Gould and supporters said they planned to return every June for ceremony.
“What protected this place was our prayers and the sacred fire,” Gould told the demonstrators. “We need to continue to have ceremony here so we can pass what happened here on to our children and grandchildren.”