West Berkeley Shellmound site to return to Indigenous stewardship

Elder Ruth Orta speaks at 3/15/24 press conference announcing the purchase of the property. (Photos: Toby McLeod)

We are thrilled to announce that a deal has been reached to protect the West Berkeley Shellmound site and return it to Indigenous stewardship. The property at 1900 Fourth Street will be purchased for $27 million by the City of Berkeley and transferred to the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, which will hold it on behalf of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan Nation.

“The City of Berkeley and Confederated Villages of Lisjan Nation have joined together to right a historic wrong, resulting in the rematriation of our oldest Shellmound and Village site to its original people,” said Corrina Gould, Chair of the Lisjan Nation.

Berkeley’s City Council first announced the deal at a March 12 meeting, with councilmembers subsequently voting unanimously on March 19 to adopt an ordinance authorizing the acquisition and transfer of the Shellmound site. The stated purpose of the ordinance is to "rematriate a portion of the historic West Berkeley Shellmound to the Ohlone people from whom the land was unjustly taken without compensation or consent prior to the founding of the City of Berkeley."

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín at the 3/15/24 press conference “Today the City of Berkeley made history by honoring the first people to live on this land.”

The City of Berkeley will provide $1.5 million from its General Fund toward the acquisition of the 2.2 acre property, with the remaining $25.5 million put forth by the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust, thanks in large part to a generous Shuumi Land Tax contribution from the Kataly Foundation. Purchase of the property from developer Ruegg & Ellsworth LLC will be finalized at the close of escrow on April 29. The purchase agreement also serves to settle all legal claims filed against the City of Berkeley and Confederated Villages of Lisjan by developers Ruegg & Ellsworth.

While this is most certainly a victory, our work is not by any means done. The rematriation of the West Berkeley Shellmound marks the beginning of a new chapter in the healing and restoration of this sacred place. In the coming years we will be calling on our Indigenous relatives and networks of community support to join in the process of stewarding and restoring the land as we continue to gather together at the West Berkeley Shellmound in ceremony. We are deeply grateful to all who have contributed over the decades to helping this dream become a reality.

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