Emeryville development at burial site protested

The Associated Press
Tuesday May 28, 2002


EMERYVILLE — American Indian groups hope to halt development of a sacred shellmound burial site to preserve the remains of some of the Bay Area’s first inhabitants. 

Last week, the city council heard from archaeological company URS Corp., which found 120 sets of human remains and thousands of other artifacts while sifting through 100 meters of soil at the site, which contains such items as discarded shells and plant and animal remains. 

“It was a sacred site and it was defiled by dancing halls and bars,” said Nancy Becker of Sacred Sites International. “We have to be sensitive to their feelings.” 

The top of the 2,700-year-old site first was removed in the late 1800s to build a dance hall and amusement park. A paint and pigment factory followed in 1924. The city council most recently approved the Bay Street project, a complex consisting of a retail, housing, hotel and entertainment facilities. 

Descendants of the Huchiun band of the Ohlone Indians were unsuccessful in their efforts to stop the project, and work crews discovered human remains in 1999. 

The project’s developer, Madison Marquette, has offered to build a memorial paying homage to the Ohlone people who once inhabited the area situated where the Temescal Creek flowed into the San Francisco Bay. Mayor Ruth Atkin also said 1 percent to 3 percent of the site will not be developed following a request from the state-assigned American Indian descendant in charge of overseeing the excavation. 

But American Indian descendants are not satisfied, and asked council members how they would feel if their ancestors’ cemeteries were dug up and then covered by a shopping center and other businesses. 

“The Ohlone people are always referred to in the past tense, but the Ohlone people are not extinct,” said Angela Apache-Davis of IPOC, Indian People Organized for Change. “It would be a great disservice to desecrate the Native American burial ground. It is cultural genocide, no other way to say it.”