By Evan Symon, California Globe,
Experts says ‘reparations’ act more like a free long-term rental
Oakland became the first city in the United States to give city-owned land rights back to a Native American tribe for reparations due to European colonization on Thursday, receiving partial control of five acres of the Joaquin Miller Park.
According to the cultural conservation easement, while Oakland would retain ownership of the five acres, the East Bay Ohlone Tribe and the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust would otherwise control how the land is used for cultural, environmental, and educational purposes. The agreement became the first victory for the land trust, who has been trying to get land reparations since 2015.
“This is a way for us to take this land and reimagine what it might have looked like,” said co-director of Sogorea Te’ Corrina Gould at a press conference at the park on Thursday. “We have a vision of a place in the hills that overlooks our territory, that holds us in a basket. It’s a way for us to tell our story as Lisjan people, and to engage our relatives from all walks of life into stewarding this land.”
The site itself has been undergoing negotiations since 2018. That year, Mayor Libby Schaaf had asked the tribes if there was anything she could do to help them regain land of cultural importance, leading to that site being selected by the tribe and Oakland City Councilman Sheng Thao to also back the plan.
“Today we are letting healing begin,” stated Schaaf at the press conference. “Today is the day when we acknowledge the harm that government and colonialization has done to the first people of this land. The original sin of Native genocide that happened right here on this land was just the beginning of additional exclusionary laws and acts that have happened over generations.”
Thao also added that “This is just the beginning, this is just the beginning. I truly believe that it was your ancestor who led your daughters to this beautiful site. This perfect site that overlooks the city of Oakland.”
Problems with park “reparations”
However, many in Oakland felt the handing over of five acres to the tribe was wrong, due to it being city-owned land and not federal land which can be be set aside through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“They just gave it up? Like that?,” asked Michael Sweeney, one of the closest residents to the park, to the Globe on Friday. “So it was something for everyone given to something that can be enjoyed by a few? How do they not see the problem with that logic? Are we going to see lower taxes because of less land to upkeep now?”
Park experts also downplayed the “reparations” angle the city tried to promote, instead noting that it was like a long-term free rental.
“Now, what Oakland did was like someone adopting a highway, but without them paying for the upkeep,” explained Melissa Gomes, a parks and recreation expert from New York, to the Globe on Friday. “In the end, the city does still own the land, but the tribe can do ceremonies and things there now. There is no transfer of deeds or anything. Actually, it’s more of a gesture than reparations.
“This kind of thing actually happens all over. Someone who owns land near a place of cultural or historical importance, like here in New York, gets contacted by a tribe wanting to do a ceremony or something on the land. So they agree, paperwork is drawn up, and it happens. The tribes are good about recognizing land ownership and the land owners are good about recognizing that they weren’t the first ones there and that it may hold significance for them.
“The only difference in Oakland is that the five acres are now kind of quasi-owned by the tribe, and that the agreement is in perpetuity. It’s really like a free long-term rental, like a company car. And even though no one dared say it, that agreement can be stopped at any time by the city.”
Other similar agreements may occur soon between tribes and other cities in California.